Noah Millman on Hanukkah and Christmas:
Besides being a minor holiday, and far from central to the Jewish religious narrative as Christmas is in the Christian religious narrative, Hanukkah is a decidedly particularist holiday, where Christmas is universalist. Judaism is, ultimately, universalist, but it gets to universalism through particularism. And Hanukkah speaks specifically to that particularism; it's a holiday of national deliverance, about the rededication of our Temple, the liberation of our people. Yes, these events ultimately have universal significance, but you're starting several steps removed. Christianity, by contrast, trumpets its universalism, and nowhere more clearly than in the story of Christmas, about God's presence on Earth becoming material and concrete.
It is a bit ridiculous, then, to see how our culture has on the one hand tried to suppress official recognition of Christmas (not only by the government but by other nonpublic but impersonal bodies; how many corporations send out Christmas cards as opposed to seasonal "holiday" cards?) while on the other hand ostentatiously celebrating Hanukkah alongside what recognition Christmas gets as if the presence of a menorah somehow "kashered" a Christmas tree. A Hanukkah menorah most certainly does not "universalize" a Christmas tree; if anything, the opposite is true: it turns the tree, which symbolizes a holiday whose message is "joy to the world and peace on Earth" into a particularist symbol like the menorah itself.
And it is very strange indeed that, as my boss related to me yesterday, his kids are learning Hanukkah songs at school but no "religious" Christmas songs ("Frosty the Snowman" is OK, but not "Silent Night") or that a lawyer we deal with, a Lutheran, can report that her son came home the other day and announced that he wishes he could celebrate Hanukkah (which he'd been learning about at his public school). Inasmuch as it is a religious holiday, Hanukkah should be just as problematic to the anti-religious vigilantes as Christmas; and inasmuch as it's a holiday with communal overtones, it's a holiday celebrated by the Jewish people, not the American people.
Of course, as a Jew, I appreciate the gesture. Having a menorah in the lobby of my building is nice - it says, in effect, "hey, we know this is your holiday now; have a good one." But I'm not entirely happy with it. Public celebration of Hanukkah distorts the holiday...
If I had to compare Hanukkah to an American and Christian holiday, it would not be Christmas, but rather Thanksgiving. What, ultimately, are we giving thanks for on Thanksgiving? For the fact that the American experiment was going to go forward, apparently with God's blessing.
What's wrong with MLK Day: A reader writes:
It's not the weather that makes MLK Day not a fun holiday. Everybody manages to party for the Super Bowl and it's impossible to get dinner reservations on Valentine's Day. MLK Day is boring because it's not associated with any fun activity. Even the serious Memorial Day has flowers and picnics to enliven it. What fun activity could white people participate in regarding this day where we would not be called racist? Let's say that August is the new destination for the MLK Day celebration, as you suggested, and we all have cookouts where we eat fried chicken and watermelon and play basketball. What would Jesse Jackson have to say about that?