Channuka versus Christmas
By N. Shuldig
It used to be that every year near the end of December, I would begin to cringe just realizing that the Xmas holiday season was about to fall onto my life. Working in a typical American office, as the December 25th date began to near and the office Christmas 'spirits' would begin to rise in my fellow co-workers, I would wish that I was somewhere else.
Don't get me wrong. When I was a small kid, about five years old, my parents decided that perhaps it would be more fun for my sister and myself to celebrate Christmas. I don't remember how or why but after two years of 'celebrating' Christmas, which meant that we would get up on December 25th and low and behold there would be presents and my father would be taking moving pictures, my sister and I rebelled and told our parents in plain terms that we were Jews and we did not celebrate Christmas; we are Jews and we celebrate Chanukah. I really don't know where we got this chutzpah from since we were not particularly observant, but my parents understood that we did not want to get presents on December 25th rather on Hanukkah. Dutifully, our parents acquiesced.
Since that time, gift giving as some form of holiday observance became much more subdued. Hanuka came and we lit candles, ate latkes, and as we matured into teenagers, the giving of money - Chanukkah gelt - sort of withered away too. But we did not mind it.
Christmas was always for the goyim. We did see what was going on. There was this immense pressure to buy presents for each member of the family. We saw the commercialization of their holiday and we quietly appreciated the fact that we only gave a little money to the children and that was it.
But still what always always bothered me was the slogan that they use: "Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards men." Thank G-d that I was born in America; the anti-Semitism that I saw and felt when I was growing up was minor to that experienced by my fellow coreligionists in Europe who lived under the dominion of the Christians. Pogroms and exile from city to city and country to country seems to make "Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards Men" look quite shallow. For two thousand years the Christians encouraged by the Church and the Pope did nothing to alleviate the rabid anti-Semitism that was so prevalent in the European countries; just the opposite, it was the church that provided the inspiration for the pogroms.
Thank G-d that I was born in America where there are definitely anti-Semites but the law keeps them in their place.
One Christmas holiday season, I was living in an apartment building in Los Angeles. My bedroom wall separated me from my neighbors living room. He was a young policeman, tough, blond headed, stout and mean. I was on a 'hello' and 'see ya' relationship with him. While I was living there, he married and brought his new wife to live with him in his apartment. It was late at night and as I climbed into bed, I heard the voice of Nat 'King' Cole singing "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas". It was definitely loud, so after laying in bed for a short while I decided to ask my dear neighbor to turn down the volume, so I put on my bathrobe and walked out on the landing of my second floor apartment. I knocked on the door and my neighbors answered my knock with glasses of whiskey in their hands. I did not need a college course to see that they were drunk and still going strong with their drinking. I asked my neighbor if he would be so kind as to turn down the volume. He mumbled something like, 'sure', then closed the door. I went back to my bed.
The problem was that when I returned to my bed I noticed that there was no change in the volume.
I decided to ask him again. He was drunk and probably when he closed the door he totally forgot what I requested. As I knocked on the door the second time, I was thinking that perhaps I should amble in and turn down the volume myself since he seemed incapable. After what seemed like a long time the door opened and instead of my neighbor standing there with a glass in his hand, he charged at me, grabbed me by the clothing that I was wearing and attempted to throw me over the railing all the while screaming some anti-Semitic remarks. I was too busy trying to hold on to the railing and myself screaming to remember exactly what he was saying, but thank G-d the manager was an elderly Jewish woman who heard my screams and came running out. Believe it or not, this little old lady began to beat this young tough policeman on his back with her fists and she began screaming at him to get out of the building that night.
He was shocked by the counter attack by this little old lady who so fearlessly beat upon his back. He let go of me and quickly raced back into his apartment, slammed the door and double locking it as the little old lady beat on the door and demanded that he leave tomorrow morning. The lights and phonograph quickly went off in the apartment and that ended that almost deadly evening.
The next day, the humbled policeman came to apologize to me for his behavior citing the fact that he was drunk and obviously would never really harm anyone (when he was sober), besides he told me, he had many Jewish friends. I, perhaps foolishly, was only too happy to accept his meager apology knowing darn well that this person is a violent anti-Semite. When he is drunk it comes out, when he is sober he knows how to hide it.
The next Sunday was a warm day in Los Angeles. I was sitting on the floor trying to repair my hifi. I left the door open to get a cross breeze, the screen door was closed. The next thing I know, the policeman's wife enters my apartment clad only in a bathrobe and holding a glass of whiskey. She begins telling me that her husband is not home and she is lonely. G-d Almighty, I thought, as I spring to my feet and grabbed her elbow and quickly pushed her out of my apartment and locked the door. That was all that I needed was for her husband to make an appearance with her almost undressed in my apartment.
In the offices where I worked, there were the Christmas parties, some more bearable than others. It seems it was the time when the guys were trying to put the make on girls that they had not yet gotten to know. It was a time that they said was for Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards Men, but I knew, that it really was just lip service. Perhaps if you were a Christian then there was a possibility that there could be some good will towards men feelings for a day or two, but I as a Jew, did not perceive it as anything but the Christian lie.
It was at this time that I decided to make aliyah. I was not married at the time and so off I went to Israel. I worked in Tel Aviv in a small office. What a relief it was when the end of the civil year rolled around and the office staff stopped working for fifteen minutes to light the Chanukah menorah and to eat sufganiot together. I did not see any Chanukah specials in the stores; Christmas was something we did not know about there.
I began to realize the really important distinction between Christmas and Chanukah.
Christmas was about a lie. Santa was a lie, Peace on Earth was a lie, Goodwill towards Men was a lie, the Church was a lie. Two thousand years the Church blames the Jews and yet they themselves can kill, rob, plunder the Jews and still believe themselves to be righteous! How anyone could be proud to be a Christian was beyond me. Had they no knowledge of history? Did they not know that the Church preferred to keep the peasants in bondage to the landowners of Europe?
Chanukah was just the opposite of Christmas. It was a celebration of ridding ourselves of Greek rule, ridding ourselves of a false system of belief. The Greeks were the main society and culture at that time. Their famed thinkers had 'conquered' the world of thought. But we Jews did not accept the Greek philosophy; we had our own understanding of how the world works and what life is about. We rebelled successfully thanks to one family who saw the truth and woke the rest of us up. The little lights that we kindle at the beginning of the darkest times of the winter shine far in the dark and give the message that no matter how great is the darkness of the night a little light can break through it.
We Jews are the little light of truth in the large world around us. We are the small minority that has given the world so much more than our little population percentage.
Just as the Chanukah candles light up the night, we Jews are the light to the world. We know the truth of the other religions. A day will come when the nations of the world will come to us to hear the truth.
from the December 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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