IT'S HARD TO write an inclusive, ecumenical "holiday column" when the two "biggies" - Christmas and Hanukkah - fall three weeks apart, but that's why they pay me the mediocre bucks.
As to the wandering holidays, blame the Jews. (Throughout history the world often has, without being asked.)
The Jewish people have their own calendar, based on the movement of the moon and the sun, invented before anyone knew that the earth moves around the sun and before Jews started knocking down Nobel Prizes for science. (Jewish people use their calendar mostly to confuse Christians.)
Jewish holidays fall on different dates each year on Christianity's Gregorian calendar. Adding to the confusion, Muslim holidays also bounce around because Islam uses a lunar calendar. There are a few other global anomalies, such as the calendar of the Republic of San Marino, but this isn't a term paper.
To escape the inevitable accusation of racism from one or two of you, Kwanzaa isn't included because it is not a religious holiday - and you should have thought of that.
Ask the average Jew when Hanukkah comes next year, he will tell you, "I'll go look at the calendar." Ask the average Christian when Christmas falls next year, she will say, "Dec. 25th, d'uh!"
Like clockwork, Christmas is always December 25. Score one for the Christians.
Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is a party for eight nights. Score one for the Jews.
Hanukkah was unusually early this year, starting Dec. 3. Hanukkah and Christmas usually are closer and the proximity explains why American Jews upgraded their Festival of Lights.
They pumped up the volume, bought into decorations and gift-giving (alas, most gifts are "practical") but stopped short of putting a yarmulke on old St. Nick and re-branding him Santa Klutz.
Confusion reigns not only over the date on which it falls each year, but even how to spell it: Chanukkah, Chanukah, Hanukah, Hanukkah, etc. For Christians it's either Christmas or the short-hand Xmas (which everyone knows is improper).
Christmas celebrates a birth, Hanukkah celebrates a victory, which a few Jewish holidays do. (Jewish "victory" usually means spoiling their enemies' plans to destroy them. Israel's still doing it.)
Most American Jews like Christmas because they get the day off, they have movie theaters to themselves and eat in Chinese restaurants with so many Jews it seems like a deli.
While the big deal is timing, there are other intersections between Hanukkah and Christmas. Here is a brief list compiled from a variety of sources and research techniques (i.e., the Internet.):
* Christmas has been commercialized. Ditto Hanukkah, but there's a limit to how much you can spend on candles made in China.
* Christmas brings jewelry, fur coats, TVs, perfume, sporting goods, even cars. Major stuff. Hanukkah brings scarves, towels, maybe a Dirt Devil or (how I hated this) handkerchiefs and socks for school. Minor stuff.
* Christmas carols are lyrical and beautiful. Hanukkah songs are about spinning tops made of clay (really plastic or wood) or dancing the hora, which is more dangerous than a Segway. (The beloved "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" was written by Jewish Irving Berlin, who did not write "I'm Dreaming of a White Hanukkah" because he knew which side his matzoh was buttered on).
* While Christian women hum and have fun in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies in fanciful shapes, Jewish women get blinded by splattering grease and cut their knuckles grating potatoes and onions for fried latkes. Christmas cookies go right to your hips. Latkes clog your arteries.
* Everyone in the Christmas story has easy names - Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. (OK, the Three Kings' names are tongue-twisters.) For Hanukkah, the cast is Antiochus, Judas Maccabbeus and maybe Jabba the Hut. I'm not sure of that last one.
I've left out the Muslim holiday of Eid because it came last month. I won't go into this month's observance of Ashura because while Christians and Jews can take good-natured ribbing about their holidays, when you poke fun at Islam, some might want to cut your head off. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
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