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The Holiday Season

Tomorrow, 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. This year, with the added complication of the twins and the need to prepare for shabbat, Nomi and I will probably forgo this tradition. Still, we're contemplating taking the kids to Rubin's or Taam China tomorrow if we can.

(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.)

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 2010.


We weren't a traditional Jewish family: we had the custom of going skiing on Xmas.
(Which worked less well when the Xtians became less frum :-).
The grandest NYC tradition for the day is to come to The Jewish Museum. Where you will usually find me, selling tickets or giving out information. Even when it's also a Friday (and I leave by 2 pm).
Ooooh! I probably can't sell Beth and Keith on doing that instead of Rock&Roll Museum on Saturday, though.



A few years ago I did a piece for the Jewish Advocate on "Arthur's Christmas." I told them to trust me, it was a Jewish article. They decided to do an episode where one of the storylines was that the rich girl throwing the Christmas party couldn't understand why her working class friend couldn't come. It turned out she was Jewish and that year it was the last night of Chanukah. Everyone is reconciled at the end and the Jewish girl is asked what her family does on Christmas if they don't observe the day. She answers, "We go to the movies!"

P.S. When I did the article I learned that Marc Brown, author of the "Arthur" books, is a Jew by choice.
I am so disappointed; the movie theater that's 4 blocks from us has already decided to be closed tomorrow because of the "snowpocalypse." The non-Christians in our neighborhood were all heard to put up a loud wail. Now we have no idea what to do with ourselves.

An alternate way to look at things...

Most employers close for xmas and new year's day, so even if you don't celebrate xmas, you're still on vacation. (After all, you've vacated the office.)

At lunch with the scientists yesterday (see my LJ post on same), Newton's birthday came up, but as I heard it, it's not firmly established what his birthday actually was.

Either way, you can make perfectly good arguments that the bard taught us how to live and love, while Newton taught us our place in the universe: equally important answers. This is a fine example of "when you're competing at this level, everyone's a champion".
Since you didn't mention it, I'm guessing you didn't see the latest xkcd, with its musings on how a Jewish physicist relates (pun intended) to Xmas. http://xkcd.com/679/

December 2016

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