Today, of course, is Christmas. If you're celebrating Christmas, may you have a merry one, full of happiness.
It's also Isaac Newton's birthday, something I always like to commemorate given my background in Physics.
And earlier in the month of December, I celebrated the festival of Chanukah. Let's take each of these in turn.
Being Jewish, of course, I don't really observe or celebrate Christmas. But in Jewish families, especially those living in New York City, there's a long-standing Christmas tradition of going out to the movies and eating Chinese food. I always thought it was a mostly New York tradition only, but I see a lot of my Jewish friends around the country are planning to do the same. As it is, Nomi and I had Chinese food last night with a friend, and if it works out we will try to get to the movies later today.
(For more information, see Judaism 101: What Do Jews Do on Christmas?
Isaac Newton's Birthday:
I always enjoyed noting the concurrence of Newton's birthday with Christmas. Newton was born in 1642 to a widow whose husband had died just a few months before. And Newton grew up to alter the way we view the world. A few years ago, when the listeners to BBC Radio 4 were choosing the most important British man of the millennium, it came down to Newton and Shakespeare. (Shakespeare won, but it was apparently a tough call.) Newton lived through the period when the UK switched from the old calendar to the new calendar, so there's some evidence that in his later years he considered his birthday to fall in January instead. But as far as I'm concerned, he was born on Christmas.
Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, commemorates a military victory over King Antiochus IV, who was attempting to assimilate and oppress the Jewish people. A lot of Christians tend to equate Chanukah with Christmas, since they take place around the same time, but the truth is that the holidays have nothing to do with each other. In fact, from a religious perspective Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday compared to the holidays of Sukkot, Pesach (Passover), and Shavuot, since those three are festivals mentioned in the Bible and Chanukah was established in rabbinic times. Because of this, I always feel odd when people want to wish me happy Chanukah during the Christmas season, because just a few months ago most of those people weren't thinking of wishing me a happy Sukkot. It also feels odd being wished a happy holiday when my own holiday has already concluded about a week ago. Still, I understand the impulse to wish someone a good holiday, and I would never think of turning down such good wishes. (Or cards. Or presents, if anyone wants to check out my Amazon.com wish list. :-) )
(For information on what Chanukah is all about, see Judaism 101: Chanukah
So that's it. To all my Christian friends, as I said before, may you have a merry and joyous Christmas. To all my Jewish friends, I hope you had a happy Chanukah. To all my friends who celebrate some other holiday of the season, may it be for good. And for those of my friends who celebrate no holiday at all, may you enjoy a good start to the Gregorian New Year of 2013.