A Very Jewish Christmas Spectacular
It’s brutal watching Chanukah get its butt kicked every year by Christmas, even in my own house. For American Jews, Christmas is unavoidable, and for Jewish American children, it’s irresistible.
Candles and chocolate gelt don’t stand a chance against Christmas trees and candy canes, and Judah Maccabee and the Chanukah story can’t compete with Santa Claus any more than a dreidel can compete with an Xbox.
You may be asking yourself: What’s a Jew to do?
Ironically, this is the same type of situation that Jews were in 2,190 years ago in Judea at the time of the Chanukah story, but instead of Santa and presents under the tree, the powerful magnetic force of cultural assimilation was driven by the philosophy and theology of the Ancient Greeks.
The Jews had seen other empires come and go, and while they might not have been able to compete against their weaponry or technology, they had always been rooted and centered around the Torah and its teachings.
With the arrival of the Greeks, the rabbis found their rigid, monotheistic texts threatened by the sex appeal of Socratic social justice and the epic supernature of Zeus and the gods/goddesses — basically the ancient origins of today’s wokeness and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This is where the Chanukah story starts, and it gets really dark really fast. Let’s just say that if Chanukah was a movie it would be written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.
The Hellenistic Jews went all-in on Ancient Greek culture, going as far as reversing their own circumcisions so they could wrestle naked in public, which was a popular activity at the time.
You might be wondering how an adult man can uncircumcise himself. You might be able to find the answer to that question with a simple Google search, but – FYI – you might also not be able to sleep for a week afterwards. You’ve been warned.
At the same time the Hellenistic Jews were assimilating, the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV started aggressively oppressing Judaism itself. He occupied Jerusalem, destroyed the city walls, turned the great temple into a pagan shrine, and forbade the study of torah or the observance of the Jewish sabbath. The existence of Judaism in the Holy Land had never been more threatened.
So far the Chanukah story is a lot of things, but it’s certainly not very Christmassy.
It’s also worth noting that most of the people reading this would have been Hellenistic Jews back then. You certainly wouldn’t have been Maccabees. Maccabees were religious fundamentalists fighting for traditional Judeo values against a society that was inventing democracy, while also perfecting Greek food and wine. Today Jewish Twitter would be calling them the “MAGAbees” and trying to get them canceled.
And the fighting was brutal. We’re talking guerilla warfare with knives, swords, spears, and blunt objects, hit-and-run nighttime raids, and ambushes on Greek battalions. It was a bloodbath.
And then at the end of the story some oil lasts longer than expected.
That’s Chanukah. No wonder it doesn’t compete with Christmas. It’s also who we are, so what are we supposed to do about it?
For starters, tell your kids the real story. They can handle it – they see and hear way worse online – and at the very least the story completely differentiates Chanukah from Christmas.
Secondly, if you can’t beat them, join them, but put a Jewish twist on it. Whatever the “big gift” is this year, give it on the first night of Chanukah, and make whatever you might do on Christmas as small and forgettable as possible. Go out for Christmas dinner but make it at a Chinese restaurant. Watch a Christmas movie with your family, but enjoy it in an empty movie theater. All of the non Jews will be home eating ham, so the world is ours (just for the day, no matter what Kanye West tells you).
Lastly, we may not be able to change the culture, but instead of letting it change us, we can make it our own. My wife and I started a show last year called A Very Jewish Christmas Spectacular to do just that. It’s a late night-style comedy & music variety show featuring an all Jewish cast and telling the ironically true story of the Jewish immigrants who wrote many of today’s Christmas hits. How’s that for putting a Jewish spin on Christmas?
If you’re in San Francisco and looking for a new way to celebrate your Jewishness during the Christmas season, join me and the rest of your tribe at The Fillmore on Thursday, December 8 for a hilarious and culturally meaningful night out in support of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of San Francisco.
Happy Chanukah, and I wish you a very Jewish Christmas.
Michael Meyer is the host and co-creator of A Very Jewish Christmas Spectacular. For tickets and more information, visit: https://www.veryjewishchristmas.com/