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A Christmas message in dark times

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Here in the United States, I react against the avoidance of the word ‘Christmas’ during this holiday season. I would undoubtedly feel differently if I were living in Turkey or India. The legions of ‘the politically correct’ determined to avoid offending those, especially Jews, who are not Christians, will carefully express their good wishes with such phrases as ‘happy holidays!’ This is okay except it obliterates the vibrant symbolism of Christmas as a seminal occasion that has over the centuries transcended for most of us its specific religious roots and meanings. It has an ecumenical resonance that calls for bright lights, ornamented trees, celebration, and wishes for peace on earth and good will toward all, bringing together those of diverse faith or no faith at all. When I was growing up in New York City Christmas was ‘Christmas’ regardless of whether one was Christian or not, and implied no religious dedication whatsoever.

As time has passed, ethnic and religious sensitivities have grown as identities have become more tribal. I do partly associate this trend in my experience with the greater ethnic assertiveness of Jews over the years, especially in response to the ascent of Israel and the rise of Zionist loyalties. America’s ‘special relationship’ with Israel represents a governmental recognition that Israel can do no wrong in the eyes of Washington. This is another unfortunate manifestation of excessive deference, in this instance what might be called ‘geopolitical correctness,’ and has had many detrimental effects on American foreign policy in the region. Another kind of harm is associated with the inhibiting State Department formal adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism that conflates strong criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews.

Yet to decry such forms of political correctness as a posture is not to condone insensitivity to those among us who have suffered or are suffering from deep historical abuses. I do believe we need to do all we can to avoid hurtful language and subtle slights when dealing with the situation of African Americans or Muslims. Donald Trump disgraces America because he embraces the kind of militant Islamophobia that is not only incendiary in the American political climate, but unwittingly is a tacit reinforcement of jihadist extremism. There is a vast difference between opportunistic deference to the ‘politically correct’ and moral sensitivity to those who have been or are being victimized in American society. Of course, Trump has achieved such prominence by his zealous willingness to be politically incorrect in all sorts of vulgar and hurtful ways, which sadly uncovers an angry and afraid constituency among the American citizenry, with its appetite for simplistic answers that shift the blame to the hateful other.

Do not such reflections also suggest the propriety of sensitivity to the long Jewish experience of persecution, climaxing with the Holocaust? To some extent, moral sensitivity is historical and geographical. It points to a difference in tone and content in Germany as compared to here in America. More concretely, it seems natural to exercise greater care in Germany not to offend, and not even to seem callous toward Jewish identity given the proximity of the Holocaust. I would affirm this kind of moral prudence and forebearance, but even this type of restraint can be carried too far. Germans and the German government obsessively avoid any semblance of criticism of Israel because of an apparent worry that such views would be treated as evidence that anti-Semitism continues to flourish in Germany. In this regard memories of the Holocaust are no longer a good reason, if it was ever the case, for suspending criticism of Zionism as a political project or Israel as a normal state as accountable to upholding international law, UN authority, and principles of morality as any other state.

It is entirely inappropriate for anyone to ignore the brutal dispossession of the Palestinian people, the prolonged denial of the Palestinian right of self-determination, and the horrific daily ordeal of living, as millions of Palestinians do, under occupation, in refugee camps, and in involuntary exile decade after decade. Bad memories of victimization are never a sufficient reason to overlook crimes being committed in the present.

As a Jew in America I feel the tensions of conflicting identities. I believe, above all, that while exhibiting empathy to all those have been victimized by tribally imposed norms, we need to rise above such provincialism (whether ethnic or nationalistic) and interrogate our own tribal and ‘patriotic’ roots. In this time of deep ecological alienation, when the very fate of the species has become precarious, we need to think, act, and feel as humans and more than this, as empathetic humans responsible for the failed stewardship of the planet. It is here that God or ‘the force’ can provide a revolutionary comfort zone in which we reach out beyond ourselves to touch all that is ‘other,’ whether such otherness is religious, ethnic, or gendered, and learning from Buddhism, reach out beyond the human to exhibit protective compassion toward non-human animate dimensions of our wider experience and reality. It is this kind of radical reworking of identity and worldview that captures what ‘the Christmas spirit’ means to me beyond the enjoyment of holiday cheer.

From this vantage point, the birth of Jesus can be narrated with this universalizing voice. The star of Bethlehem as an ultimate source of guidance and the three wise kings, the Maji, who traveled far to pay homage to this sacred child can in our time bestow the wisdom of pilgrimage, renewal, and transformation that will alone enable the human future to grasp the radical wisdom of St. Augustine’s transformative: “Love one another and do what thou wilt.” Put presciently in a poem by W.H. Auden, “We must love one another or die.”

I suppose I am making a plea, or is it a dreamy affirmation? A utopian wish, to be sure, but nothing less has relevance in these dark times.

This post first appeared on Richard Falk’s site.

Richard Falk
About Richard Falk

Richard Falk is a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University. He is the author or co-author of 20 books and the editor or co-editor of another 20 volumes. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on "the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967."

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40 Responses

  1. Boomer
    December 25, 2015, 2:17 pm

    Thank you for these wise and eloquent words, Prof. Falk.

  2. lysias
    December 25, 2015, 2:32 pm

    I took a course in Elementary Italian when I was an undergraduate at Princeton (taught by future baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti). Richard Falk, who was then a junior professor at Princeton, audited that course and showed that he had studied diligently. Even though the fields that he taught had nothing to do with Italian.

  3. Citizen
    December 25, 2015, 4:47 pm

    Wonderful article by the astute and wise Mr. Falk. Imagine what he thinks of Bibi’s Xmas gifts to the WH via Ambassador Dermer.

  4. Ossinev
    December 26, 2015, 10:31 am

    An excellent,intelligent and respectful article.

    BTW had a look at the definition referred to by Professor Falk and totally agree with the “conflation”argument. Sorry to lower the tone but it was almost if it was making the case for not objecting to the smell of a fart as it mind offend the farter ?

  5. Scott
    December 26, 2015, 12:33 pm

    Prof Falk,
    I’d like to ask to reconsider and possibly soften your view of Trump as an unreconstructed demagogue out to demonize the other, etc. In my view a president who is a little bit more nationalist might well be less interventionist and less warlike. Trump’s desire to slow down immigration, if sometimes expressed extremely, is a pretty reasonable measure to deal with growing domestic inequality, collapse of working class wages. A recent article contrasted the hysteria which greeted Trump’s temporary pause on visas proposal with the general indifference American elites feel about policies which kill or uproot hundreds of thousands of Muslims: I don’t expect you or anyone here to be actually friendly towards Trump, but the policies he expounds are it seems to me in most ways more humanistic than Hillary’s, not to mention other Republicans.

    • Mooser
      December 26, 2015, 12:58 pm

      “Trump’s desire to slow down immigration, if sometimes expressed extremely, is a pretty reasonable measure to deal with growing domestic inequality, collapse of working class wages.”


      • Scott
        December 26, 2015, 1:11 pm


        Mooser has figured out how to repeal the law of supply and demand.

      • zaid
        December 26, 2015, 6:59 pm

        Trump is better for Palestine than Hillary.

        People needs to understand that he only says what he says about Mexicans and Muslims to get votes ,and he doesn’t actually belive in what he says.

        The questions is : What will be the actually polices that he will implement?

    • Froggy
      December 26, 2015, 2:21 pm

      So, by this reasoning you agree with American policy prior and during WW2 to not admit the Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and occupied Europe.

      • Mooser
        December 26, 2015, 3:17 pm

        No Froggy, I hadn’t yet had my coffee when I wrote that. Scott is right.

        In fact, I realized I could increase demand for myself the same way. All I have to do is kill myself.

      • echinococcus
        December 26, 2015, 4:18 pm


        That policy is a result of obstinate lobbying by the Zionist organizations.

    • RoHa
      December 26, 2015, 6:12 pm

      ” the policies he expounds are it seems to me in most ways more humanistic than Hillary’s, not to mention other Republicans.”

      I’m inclined to agree, but, in view of Hillary’s record, this is not much of a compliment to Trump.

  6. Froggy
    December 26, 2015, 2:27 pm

    John 1:5: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

    As quoted by Queen Elizabeth 2 in her Christmas Day message.

  7. rosross
    December 26, 2015, 6:39 pm

    This is a particular and peculiar American ‘tradition’ and most assume it is because of pressure from Jewish lobby groups – otherwise why do it? There is no doubt that Jewish lobbyists wield enormous power in the US in ways simply unknown in any other country bar, Israel.

    Christmas is Christmas in the rest of the world and it is Christmas in Muslim Africa where I have lived; Christmas in Hindu India where I have lived, Christmas in the Middle East, Buddhist Asia, Muslim Indonesia – well, Christmas everywhere except the US where it has become something else called Happy Holidays.

    The use of the term Happy Holidays when people mean Merry Christmas, actually irritates many people outside of the US and no doubt inside its borders as well, and it is also confusing because in the rest of the English-speaking world, Holidays are what you call Vacation, so saying Happy Holidays, means, to those outside the US, that you are in essence waving people goodbye as they go on holidays, i.e. vacation.

    The other reason why the American Happy Holidays is counter-productive, is that Christmas has become universal because the non-religious form of Christmas can be embraced by all. In fact, outside of the US and perhaps even inside it, many Jews also celebrate Christmas because, well, Christmas is Christmas – it is not about religion except to those Christians who want it to be, it also manifests in secular form with in fact a plethora of pagan traditions – Santa Claus, Father Christmas (or is he Father Holidays in the US), Christmas Trees (or are they Holiday Trees); gifts, sharing, gathering, eating all sorts of traditional food – turkey, goose, ham, mince pies, fruit cake, Trifle, Christmas Pudding etc. etc. depnding on where you are.

    The secular Christmas has relevance around the world and for all religions and that is its gift and its power despite the ‘sorrow’ some Christians might feel toward its development.

    Christmas is about thinking about others, regardless of religion and in fact even in the religious Christmas, unlike pretty much all other religious traditions, including Hannukah, the focus has always been on embracing everyone – gathering together whether Christian or not, everyone and anyone for Christmas.

    No doubt that is why the non-religious Christmas evolved and it is that Christmas which should never be called simply Holiday, and in fact, beyond US borders, never will be.

    • RoHa
      December 26, 2015, 7:24 pm

      クリスマス (Kurisumasu) in Japan is weird, but that is what one expects from Japan.

      Here’s a nice article about it.

      (I like the line “Having a girlfriend always makes one a quick learner…” If you know what’s good for you, that is.)

      The Japanese have adopted the idea of the Christmas cake* from Britain, but the European emphasis on Christmas Eve.

      And don’t forget the KFC.

      (*But the cakes are rather nicer than the dark fruit cakes with bullet-proof icing of British tradition. After Christmas most of these are recycled as foundation material for bridge supports.)

      • tokyobk
        December 27, 2015, 6:13 am

        Where is the evidence that people say “happy holidays” mostly not to offend the Jews?

        I like “Merry Christmas,” by the way, and have no beef with that basic argument, except surprise of surprises this essay draws a Jew shaped hole in the application of sensitivity which of course should apply to other groups.

        Everyone or no one, professor.

        In my experience, Roha, people who expect weird things from Japan almost always either don’t live here or live here but with limited language abilities and social contacts within the normative society. I find much reporting from the supposedly unique islands on blogs written by foreigners to be sensationalist as well. Like, here I am on this strange planet type written. Understandable but adds to this misperception that Japans anything but its own particular variation of normal.

        But maybe you live/have lived here and disagree.

        I do want to visit the Japan I read about online one day, though, sounds fun. And weird.

      • RoHa
        December 27, 2015, 6:48 am

        Lived there for six years. Enjoyed it. Definitely weird.

        Mind you, I also think Americans are crazy.

    • Boomer
      December 27, 2015, 10:58 am

      rosross, thanks for your observations on “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas.” I haven’t lived outside the U.S., and can’t comment on customs in other countries, but I found your comments about that interesting. I do recall living in the U.S. back in the 50’s and 60’s, when the issue of prayer in public school was litigated. That’s a different issue than replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” but perhaps they are part of the same cultural struggle and evolution.

      It’s true that some Jewish Americans played a leading role in some of the initial litigation about public prayer and in the subsequent cultural evolution, but so did some others, such as atheists, Unitarians (though they were not acting on behalf of Unitarianism as a whole) and others. Wikipedia has a good discussion of that history (see below). It wasn’t just a legal battle, of course. Attitudes and values and customs these days are shaped by news and entertainment media more than by politicians or judges. So media elites in NY and LA were, and are, important. Academic elites matter too.

      It’s true, as you say, that something has been lost in this evolution, but perhaps it was inevitable. Still, I can understand the appeal of living in a society where there is more of a consensus. I suppose that is why American Zionists support the existence of a Jewish state, even while they want to live in a pluralistic, secular society.

      excerpt from Wikipedia (footnotes omitted):

      “A Turning Point: The “Regents` Prayer” and Engel v. Vitale

      “In 1955, the New York Board of Regents approved an inclusive school prayer to be used in the public school system. The prayer was relatively short: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.” The board stated that the prayer would “combat juvenile delinquency and counter the spread of Communism.” The media and popular culture erroneously credits atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair with removing school prayer from public schools. She fought recitation of the Lord`s Prayer in Baltimore.

      “A more significant case had reached the Supreme Court one year prior.[ Steven Engel, Daniel Lichtenstein, Monroe, Lerner, Lenore Lyons, and Lawrence Roth, all parents of children in the Long Island, New York public school system, came together with the New York Civil Liberties Union to challenge the constitutionality of the Regents` Prayer in court. While New York`s courts backed the use of prayer in school, it was taken before the Supreme Court in the “Engel v. Vitale” case in 1962. With a 8-1 vote to make public recitation of the Regents` Prayer in public schools unlawful, the U.S. Supreme Court had made its first ever decision on coercive prayer in public schools. It made its second in 1963- the Abington School District v. Schempp ruling made the corporate reading of the Bible and recitation of the Lord`s Prayer unlawful in public schools.”

      • rosross
        December 27, 2015, 7:07 pm

        Well, the US is the most religious of all developed nations and unfortunately much of it is fundamentalist Christianity. Fundamentalist anything is always a problem whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Moslem, or for that matter, Atheist.

        How many of the parents in the Supreme Court case were Jewish?

        I don’t think there is any doubt that Americans are forced to replace Merry Christmas with Happy Holidays because of Jewish pressure.

        And thanks for the links to Wiki but Wikipedia is not accepted as a source by any respectable university in the world and the nature of it has made it always dubious in terms of facts, particularly on controversial issues, and in more recent times, more propaganda than anything else.

        For what it is worth I don’t think there should be any religion in schools until kids get to High School and are taught about all religions. I also think all religious schools should be banned – Jewish, Christian, Moslem, the lot, because they brainwash kids at vulnerable ages – that therefore being the point.

        Having said that, many of the Christian schools, Catholics in particular, have some excellent qualities in terms of teaching children to care about others, to be community and socially minded etc., but none of that is particular to any religion and could be taught without the religious connection.

        One of the reasons why I believe the secular Christmas is important, is because it is universal and it does or can appeal to everyone. I really don’t think Americans calling Christmas Holidays is going to have any real impact on the rest of the world because most nations simply don’t have your political and financial pressure from Jewish/Zionist agendas, and the average person thinks calling Christmas something else is both unnecessary and silly.

    • CigarGod
      December 30, 2015, 9:30 am

      Holidays is a contraction of Holy Days, is it not?
      I think it was thus long before the first european stepped ashore in the west.

  8. Mooser
    December 26, 2015, 7:09 pm

    My own personal War on Christmas has been lost. I went down to defeat in a welter of LED bulbs, tiny wires, chips, and molded plastic.

  9. Stogumber
    December 27, 2015, 5:47 am

    The Trump problem is indeed an interesting ethical puzzle. Are U.S. Americans obliged to accept Mexican (Guatemalan etc.) immigrants to the point when wages in both Americas are equally low and immigration stops naturally?
    One might say so, but it seems a bit harsh. (Mooser’s answer to Scott wasn’t much instructive, I think.)

    Christianity is no help in those matters. It’s an individualistic creed and gives no recommendations for statesmen.

    • Mooser
      December 27, 2015, 1:16 pm

      ” (Mooser’s answer to Scott wasn’t much instructive, I think.)”

      I was just trying to help Scott out in his tender concern for the working class. If I off myself, and make the working class smaller, it’ll mean higher wages for everybody else. A small sacrifice, really.

      I think immigrants strengthen America. Heck, one of them might give me a job!

      • Danaa
        December 27, 2015, 6:23 pm

        Mooser: “I think immigrants strengthen America. Heck, one of them might give me a job! ”

        Correction: as in “some” immigrants. The truth that not many want to talk about is that there are different kinds of immigrants. One doubts Americans, including Trump, would have all that much objection to waves of immigrant engineers arriving from Germany, UK, France, or Seoul. Or even if they are not engineers but say, “merely” liberal art types. It is only a “type’ of immigrant that is objected to and those are the low skilled manual laborers arriving through the southern border. Yes, their labor is needed or else they wouldn’t be let in, words against “immigration” notwithstanding. The trouble is that everyone understands, from the smartest to the stupidest, that in the long run these immigrants are much harder to integrate into the larger, skilled labor force, which means endless expenditures on education, incarceration, human capital promotion and what not.

        What I am saying is the obvious, even if it is rarely stated by the either MSM or bloggers, liberal or otherwise. In modern America, upward mobility is a kind of a myth. What was once upon a time is largely compromised. People’s educational levels and earning power tracks with their parents’ and neighborhoods. The middle class is being hollowed out and in the future, there will be fewer and fewer well paying jobs for the low middle class. And that last one is where the majority of immigrants from the South would normally move into, were things the way they used to be in the 50’s and 60’s.

        So I would cut some slack for them who hear whatever they hear in Trump’s whistles. The people who support his seemingly uncompromising stand on immigration tend to be the ones fearing being displaced by modern technology. It’s their jobs that are being eliminated, not those of the IT specialist. So, in supporting trump, they only voice their trepidation and discontent.

    • Rodneywatts
      December 27, 2015, 3:13 pm

      Hey Stogumber, can’t really agree that Christianity gives no guidance to statesmen. Do you not think that the words of the prophet Micah in ch6 v8 “… what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?”, are commendable reading for both Jewish and Christian statesmen?

      By the way I was prompted to read your comment because Stogumber is a small village by the Quantock Hills in the County of Somerset in England. I used to drive through it as a short cut. Small world! All the best for 2016

  10. Rodneywatts
    December 27, 2015, 2:43 pm

    Another erudite and succinct piece from emeritus prof. Richard Falk, weaving the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, with its message of eternal love,peace and hope among humankind, together with God’s plan that we should care for the wellbeing of this planet. His contributions to active persual of justice in I/P are immense and appreciated as an American contribution e.g his signature to the letter to the EU about trading with Israeli settlements recently reported here on MW: A real Mensch.

    I know here in the UK we can complain about the quality of some of our politicians, and we really need to move to a proportional representation electoral system, but what a circus Trump & Co are putting on. God help America! ( and the rest of us!!)

  11. Kathleen
    December 27, 2015, 2:54 pm

    Interesting piece. Grew up Catholic…although not a believer. Took me way too long to get comfortable with that and say it out loud. So I say “Happy Holidaze.” Mostly because so many folks are crazed by the consumption push. Sad…really. Like the family, friends, festive activities.

    Will even go so far to honor others beliefs by taking my 87 year old mother and her 93 year old sister (2 of 11) into a beautiful Catholic chapel to light candles before the statue of Jesus and kneel and pray. Quiet as I wander around looking at the incredibly beautiful stained glassed windows, chalices on the alter, angels guarding the tabernacle, stations of the cross Always aware of the heart felt prayers, intent, chants, etc that take place in churches, synagogues, mosques etc. Honor this need in folks. Have always felt open to those often beautiful intentions. Just not a believer that Jesus is the “only way” to a higher consciousness. So many great examples out there…Jesus, Gandhi Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Buddha etc etc. Stay open…allow. Not offended by anyones deep belief in any religious or spiritual beliefs.. Just hope folks don’t want to kill anyone over their beliefs.

    Fascinating that Christians made such an effort to trump pagan dates (solstice etc) with Christian holidays. Also have been fascinated with St Augustine’s “just wars” arguments. When they are used to justify slaughters.

    Breathing in breathing out the intention of peace

  12. lysias
    December 27, 2015, 6:11 pm

    I always say “Merry Christmas!” Saying “Happy holidays!” strikes me as cowardly.

    • rosross
      December 27, 2015, 7:12 pm

      Well, it is Christmas – December 25 is Christmas Day. The day may have been pinched from Mithras, the Roman God and other saviour/redeemer gods like Horus, but it is still Christmas and will remain Christmas.

      Holiday Trees, Holiday dinner, Holiday day, Holiday presents, Holiday carols, Father Holiday – all ridiculous and only in the US!

      Christmas Trees, Christmas dinner, Christmas presents, Christmas Carols, Christmas Day, Father Christmas is what it is to people around the world, regardless of their religion.

      • Sibiriak
        December 28, 2015, 12:02 am

        rosross: Well, it is Christmas – December 25 is Christmas Day.

        Not in Russia. Christmas there is January 7. It’s more or less a serious religious holy day. Most of the fun Christmasy stuff, the tree, gift-giving etc., is reserved for New Year’s eve.

        [Wikipedia:] During the Soviet period, religious celebrations were discouraged by the officially atheist state. Christmas tree and related celebrations were gradually eradicated after the October Revolution. In 1935, in a surprising turn of state politics, the Christmas tradition was adopted as part of the secular New Year celebration. These include the decoration of a tree, or “ёлка” (spruce), festive decorations and family gatherings, the visit by gift-giving “Ded Moroz” (Дед Мороз “Grandfather Frost”) and his granddaughter, “Snegurochka” (Снегурочка “The Snowmaiden”).

        I particularly like the Snowmaidens!



        [Wikipedia:] In 1999, atheist MV Agbunov requested that the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation tested the constitutionality of decrees on the recognition of 7 January as a federal holiday. This request was denied by the court by the argument that, “the specified statutory provisions apply to the law on public holidays days …, and do not contain provisions indicating the violation of constitutional rights and freedoms referred to by the applicant. (Articles 14, 19, 28 and 29 (part 2) of the Constitution of Russia)”.

        In 2008, a neo-pagan group filed a similar complaint. The group argued that the fact that Orthodox Christmas is an official holiday is contrary to the Constitution of Russia, according to which “no religion can be established as state and obligatory”. After having considered the complaint, the court rejected it on the grounds that decisions about public holidays are within the competence of the Russian Parliament and are not a constitutional matter.[4]

      • rosross
        December 28, 2015, 8:29 pm


        Having lived in Russia I am well aware of the differing traditions, as I am of differing religious traditions in many parts of Europe, but the fact remains that December 25 is the international and universal Christmas celebration, even in places where they have different religious traditions.

        The world did not pick up January 7, it picked up December 25 and that was my point and that is the date for the non-religious Christmas, more akin to Mithras and other saviour/redeemer gods throughout history, which, unwittingly perhaps, is now celebrated around the world regardless of religion, to lesser and greater degrees.

  13. Danaa
    December 27, 2015, 6:59 pm

    Good piece here by Falk. I like the open mindedness about the SPIRIT of Christmas, which is something that transcends its meaning for the religious Christians.

    What i do sense among the many jewish objectors to the words “merry chirstmas” is not so much a plea for tolerance but a concealed sense of envy. heck, the Christians, over millenia came up with a good one. Christmas IS (or can be if one lets it) be kind of fun for all. It IS a time of year that, while we use/abuse it for an orgy of consumption, we also spend some time thinking what gift to get others that they might like. Even for people we rarely see or know, or even like. It IS a time when families try to get together or at least call each other when they are far away. The lights DO look festive and even hurried strangers do seen to try and wish you a merry old time almost cheerfully. And people do so without regard to one’s own religion or lack thereof. Even die hard atheists may find the grit to wish Happy something-or-other to believers, momentarily putting their deep principles aside. As prof. Falk suggested, there is a perceptible feeling of good will in the air int the time leading up to Christmas. No matter how religious one is, it’s nice to at least try and exchange pleasantries during that brief time in the year. Personally I noticed thatIi can even get over my aversion to small talk, for like 2 whole weeks. Suddenly I don’t mind it all that much – the little chit-chats – proving that pompouseness too can take a break now and then. Heck, there are years I didn’t even mind the Christmas music beamed out everywhere.

    And did I say yet, that some of those christmas carols are not half bad when properly rendered? at least christmas kept the choir music art thing vibrant for a thousand years, eventually begetting that Handle’s Messaiah sing-along.

    Now compare with what the Jews came up with. Sorry but hanukkah is a pale counterpart. most, including jews, don’t even know what it’s about. Something to do with a – very temporary – military victory by the Maccabis over some local Greek troops. As in those over-zealous, ultra-religious, ultra-nationalistic maccabis. The Maccabis that later beget the hashmonaim rule that lasted long enough to bring corruption to an art form. The Maccabis who are the spiritual fathers of the current religious=nationalistic settler movement taking over israel. So yes, one can light candles, one more every day, then stare at the candles till they go out some half hour later. One can pretend that Hannukah is a time of gift giving – why – a gift every day – and for 8 days too! But secretly, or not so secretly, we know it’s basically an invented festivity with next to little or no spiritual meaning, other than celebrating a tactical military victory, if that can be considered spiritual. Hannukkah, like kwanza, feels like a somewhat forced invention to allow some groups in the US to feel “included” to have something of their own to hold up against the ever-invasive Christmas and all its symbols. Hannukah can be called a ‘festival of lights”, but the more one digs in, the emptier it becomes of meaning other than yet another mid-winter event that goes back to ancient solstice rituals.

    So it is the colorfulness and the spirit of giving and togetherness that marks Christmas as an achievement of festiveness. It has a universality that transcends its religious meanings, a universality that is not exactly shared by the invented hannukkah. A Buddist or Hindu American may choose to put some lights around their house or tree without feeling weird. But no one thinks of lighting hannukah candles except jewish people and their closest and dearest. IT just doesn’t FEEL universal, maybe because it isn’t.

    In israel, of course, hannukah just means an excuse for a week long winter school holiday for all. Which is kind of nice when you are in school. Whether one lights candles or not. It’s just that those hannukah songs, which I blissfully forgot, used to drive me nuts. So may be, hannukah Grinch that I am, it’s time for settling some old scores. I do, of course, wonder whether i would be quite as inclined to give Christmas a pass, had THEY kicked me off the school choir, due to an unfortunate inability to carry a tune…..

    • rosross
      December 27, 2015, 7:24 pm

      @Danaa, good piece.

      Where Christmas was and is unique is that it always embraced everyone, regardless of religion but then that ‘reaching out’ and seeking to ‘help others’ regardless of their religion, and sure, attempts were and are made for conversion but it was not and is not demanded, has always been a particular and special part of Christianity.

      I have no time for any religion, having studied quite a few and deciding to stick with God, but I don’t think there is any doubt that Christianity has been exceptional in its efforts to reach out to everyone and Christmas Day reflects that, which, no doubt, is why it so easily evolved into something secular and non-religious.

      Kwanza is ridiculous and I say that as someone who has spent decades living in various African countries. Kwanza is particular to the US, as is Christmas being called Holiday. Kwanza represents nothing except deluded political correctness.

      From my understanding most Americans with African ancestry are Christian anyway so I am not sure what Kwanza is meant to do or be. And Africa is so divided, that the African links (supposedly) for Kwanza, would relate to a tiny minority of Africans and be meaningless or offensive to the rest.

      And many, perhaps most Africans are Christian and a lot are Muslim so the entire concept is ridiculous.

    • RoHa
      December 27, 2015, 8:09 pm

      “Christmas IS (or can be if one lets it) be kind of fun”

      Which is why the Puritans banned it in the third year of the Civil War. The Kirk had banned it even earlier.

      “there are years I didn’t even mind the Christmas music beamed out everywhere.”

      Far better than the appalling screeching and wailing that usually fills our shopping centres and supermarkets.

    • lysias
      December 29, 2015, 6:46 pm

      I now have a hard time not associating Hannukah with Operation Cast Lead.

      Which is perhaps appropriate, since the Maccabean revolt was an exclusionary revolt against the Jews who adopted Hellenism.

  14. DaBakr
    December 28, 2015, 2:59 am

    A truly hateful lecture on the lack of Christmas spirit due mostly, falk says, to Jews. If he once was dedicated to law he is now not even a shadow of his younger self and seems popular with a very slim and peculiar set of leftists who think along his same lines.

    • echinococcus
      December 28, 2015, 10:17 am

      Sure, all we needed on this here Mondoweiss was some extreme fascist, a Zionist no less, to imperiously tell us how to think.

    • Mooser
      December 28, 2015, 11:35 am

      “A truly hateful lecture on the lack of Christmas spirit due mostly, falk says, to Jews.”

      Where’s yours? You don’t got no Christmas spirit. Haven’t shown so much as an iota.
      Even if you were boiled in your own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through your heart, you still wouldn’t get it.

      • rosross
        December 28, 2015, 8:30 pm

        You are a funny bugger, Mooser. :)

        p.s. where I come from bugger is a term of affection.

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