My Turn: Rethinking the holidays — The Big Switch

  • mactrunk mactrunk

Published: 11/23/2022 5:31:24 PM
Modified: 11/23/2022 5:31:13 PM

The proposal I am about to lay out comes too late to be enacted this year. It is my fervent hope that those in charge of these matters (God? God’s First Assistant?) might take it under advisement in the near future.

In a nutshell, I propose the number of days on which we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas be switched: Hanukkah would last for one day and Christmas for eight. This may appear, on the surface, to be a radical or even blasphemous idea. But as we dig deeper (get out your sharpest shovels, dear readers) and explore the pros and cons of this rather significant change, you can decide for yourselves where you stand on what might become (one never knows!) the next great issue of the decade.

Hanukkah has always been considered a minor Jewish holiday, mainly because it is not sanctioned by the Bible. It only became popular and widely celebrated in the United States around the turn of the 20th century.

Christmas is … well … Christmas! There is little argument that the birth of Jesus Christ stands out as one the most influential events in the history of mankind.

We celebrate Hanukkah (full disclosure: my family celebrates both holidays) for eight nights, based on the well-known story from the second century BCE: a single pot of oil, sufficient to keep the Temple’s “Eternal Light” burning for one day, miraculously lasted eight full days, leaving enough time for more oil to be found. Not surprisingly, there is much scholarly debate about the accuracy of this story. What is almost certain is that olive oil would have been used as fuel for the synagogue’s candelabra and that the temple in question was surrounded by olive fields (HM).

Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus, which, I believe, I have already mentioned. (At my age, memory is faulty.)

We are now ready to consider reasons to celebrate Hanukkah for one day:

Imagine, if you will, the temple’s light burned for just one day longer than expected, not eight, before a sufficient quantity of oil was delivered. This is a reasonable assumption, given the availability of olives and the widespread and varied uses of olive oil throughout Judea. If this scenario were true, Hanukkah would be a one-day holiday, period. End of story.

Fried latkes have never made it onto the Top Ten List of Most Healthful Foods. Add kreplach, knishes, and donuts to the mix and you have eight days of carb-loading and indigestion. One day of this diet would be far superior for the future survival of the Jewish people.

A box of 44 Hanukkah candles typically costs $4.99, plus the cost of gas to and from the store. Think of the money (and time) saved with a one day holiday.

I know the words to two Hanukkah songs, which makes for eight pretty repetitive nights of singing.

How many times can an average person spin a dreidel and remain sane?

More imagination, I admit, might be required when considering celebrating Christmas for eight days:

Is it not sensible to give Santa more time to make his deliveries? Circle the globe in one night? Come on now! In eight days, he could take his time, throw his sooty red suit in the wash now and then, and tend to his exhausted sleigh-pullers.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a practical reason for keeping a shedding pine or spruce in the living room for several weeks? Children would have eight days to look longingly at their presents under the tree, anticipating the opening of one or two or more per day for eight days!

As for the birth of Jesus (bear with me here): let us consider, or at least be open to, the possibility that Mary may have experienced an extremely l-o-n-g labor, say, eight days long. The holiday would then commemorate both the birth of her son and the pain and agony she must have endured. True, there is no Biblical reference to an extended labor, but based on my limited knowledge of Mary, I’d wager she was a stoic, private woman who kept her pain to herself. She would have allowed no one to record her ordeal.

What are there, a hundred Christmas songs? Let’s spread them out over a week or so.

Please. Pretty please.

Jews represent approximately 2.5% of the U.S. population. One can argue that an 8-day holiday provides this minority with a slight sense, once a year, of holding the upper hand, of being important enough to merit more than a week of holiday cheer. On the other hand, other celebrants might miss the special feeling of one Christmas morning and one, elaborate holiday dinner.

But these minor concerns do not worry me. In my opinion, the benefits of making what I will call “The Big Switch” outweigh the possible downsides. After I speak with the powers that be, I’ll get back to you with Their (His? Her?) decision.

Gene Stamell celebrates the holidays in Leverett. He can be reached at gstamell@gmail.com.


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