It's also Isaac Newton's birthday, something I always like to commemorate given my background in Physics.
And tonight is the last night 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. Nomi and I actually plan to be at the Jewish Museum in NYC on Monday, and for food we're probably going to go to their cafeteria for lunch and then go to a deli for dinner. So if any other Jewish folk out there are having Chinese food on Monday, can we be yotzei on you?
(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.) I'm not the only one who enjoys the story of Newton being born on Christmas -- see Isaac Newton's Life: A Christmas Story by Cynthia Bass (Scripps Howard News Service, 1988) for some details on his life and the appropriateness of his birthday.
Tonight is the last night of Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, which 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 two months ago most of those people weren't thinking of wishing me a happy Sukkot. 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, may you have 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 2007.