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The Holiday Season

Next Tuesday, 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. Nomi and I know of a few movies coming out that we want to see, so chances are we'll do something of the sort next Tuesday. (On Monday, we're going to the Museum of Science for CSI exhibit.)

(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.

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 two 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 and a half 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 2008.


Each of our girls were allowed to invite a non-Jewish friend to join us for a night of Chanukah. I told the story of the Jewish victory over Antiochus to Robin's friend and she didn't believe me when I explained the Jews had defeated teh Greeks (she's Greek Orthodox and has very strong ties to her Greek heritage).

We'll be going out for Chinese food with my parents and sister's family on Tuesday, followed by taking the kids to see "Enchanted."

For the reason Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas, you should read Christopher Moore's totally logical and reasonable explanation in the book Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal.
Your friend can take solace in the fact that the Jews didn't defeat the Greeks. They defeated the Seleucid Empire, a Hellenistic (i.e. speaking the Greek language and following Greek culture, but not actually Greek) empire centered in what is now Syria. That's why you may have heard people refer to the "Syrian Greeks" or "Greek Syrians".
When I leave work this afternoon, I plan on wishing my coworkers who don't celebrate Christmas a happy Tuesday.
Funny -- but there's a tradition in our family of going to the movies and eating Chinese food on Christmas day, too -- and we do celebrate Christmas.

We eat Chinese food so everyone can enjoy Christmas Day, including Mom (aka, me).

I never knew that Newton was born on Christmas -- how delightful! I'll have to find a likeness of him to add to the tree. I'm sure that he'd appreciate being placed lovingly next to the Millenium Falcon or perhaps next to Obi Wan or Yoda.

Best wishes for the coming (Gregorian) New Year!
Hee. I like your tree.
Rod Serling was also born on Christmas.
Or to borrow a line from a song I have heard on Dr. Demento many times, Have a Happy Whatever this season.
Old Isaac was also born on the very same day that Galileo died.

How's that for a coincidence? :)

P.S. And a very Happy Newton Day to all of you at home. :)

Our Lego® Train Club displays at a local museum during their holiday show, and I always install my menorrah, Santa and his reindeer, and the Newton Tree on the layout at this time of year. (And yes, the little plastic menorrah has an appropriate number of candles lit for each day.)

(I have even more fun when we do a show around Halloween, however.)
I like this tree.
Don't forget the Winter Solstice, which is the origin of most holiday celebrations at this time. Many environmentalists and ecology-minded types are reviving the celebration of the Solstice with an emphasis on reconnecting with the natural world around us. New Year's is at this time because Julius Caesar moved it from March (coinciding with the Spring Equinox) to occur at the Solstice. The extra week in between (in the Julian calendar, the Solstices and Equinoxes occurred around the 25th of March, June, September and December) was designed to give people an additional week to party.
After years growing up and feeling kind of left out on Christmas, one of the things I love about being in Israel now is that all the Jewish Holidays are acknowledged (even in the secular world -- for example, during chanukah we went to see a family show at a neighboring secular kibbutz, and they lit a chanukiah (AKA menorah) before the show), and the non-Jewish holidays are treated pretty much the same way Jewish Holidays are in the US -- i.e. they might be given some recognition on the news but otherwise life goes on as normal. So Christmas, though it is a big day for the Christians here, is an ordinary work day!
Thanks, Michael!

Hope you had a happy Chanukah and will have a super New Year!

I am a New Yorker and I love Chanukah! I celebrate it with my Jewish friends and neighbors. It's one of the best things about my neighborhood. I hope yours was wonderful and full of family and friends. :)
The holiday season? Wasn't that three months ago?? :-)

December 2016

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