The politics behind holidays

Understanding and appreciating every kind of celebration

By Julie Hirshan |

Every year, as the holidays approach, I always hear lots of people around campus talking about “Christmas break,” and organizing countless “Christmas parties” for their clubs and organizations, as well as among their groups of friends.

Each time I witness one of these politically incorrect statements, I try to casually interject that a more appropriate name might be “holiday party,” or that I am actually looking forward to “winter break.”

People always apologize and correct themselves, but then continue to make the same “mistake” over and over again in conversation leading up to the end of exams.

It’s not that I have anything against Christmas, but I am Jewish. And for all my friends who are reading this and know my family situation, my mother is Christian so I do celebrate Christmas with her when I’m at home.

This year I’ve noticed that things have gotten a little bit better. In my three and a half years at this school, I think I’ve been able to condition some people to wish me a “Happy Hanukkah” towards the end of the year, or to say “holiday break” when referring to our time off between semesters.

But that’s not the point. Most people who aren’t familiar with the Jewish faith assume that, since Hanukkah comes at the same time of year as Christmas, both holidays are of equal importance to each faith. This really isn’t the case.

Hanukkah is a special holiday because it honors a miracle. The practice of lighting the candles on the menorah comes from the story about oil that was supposed to be enough only to last for one day, and burned for eight days instead. Dreidels, now used as games during this holiday, were originally used by Jewish families in ancient Israel to teach their children about the Torah when it was outlawed by the governing Syrians.

While Hanukkah is most closely and frequently associated with Judaism, its proximity to Christmas does not correspond with its importance.

Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year, is a very important holiday. Reflection on transgressions over the past year begins on this day, and continues for the 10 Days of Repentance that end with Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is considered by many to be the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. The final day of repentance, it is a time to ask for forgiveness, as well as to fast and refrain from work.

Passover, a spring holiday, marks the time when the Jewish people were finally freed from their slavery in ancient Egypt. The custom for this holiday is to have a large, interactive dinner, called a Seder, where family members read through the story and remember the suffering of our ancestors.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and perhaps even Passover, are much more important than Hanukkah, but not nearly as recognized by popular American culture.

I think this is mostly due to ignorance on the part of people who aren’t exposed to or taught much about Jewish culture. Assuming that Hanukkah is the “Jewish Christmas” because of the time of year is inaccurate. Education is the only way to change these perceptions, and this is hard at a small school like Flagler where most students come from Christian backgrounds.

In the upcoming months, I think that everyone’s beliefs and viewpoints should be recognized with equal respect and enthusiasm. There are people at this school who will go home for break to celebrate Christmas, and some who will celebrate Hanukkah, and some that will celebrate others. There are some who won’t celebrate anything, and just welcome the break from classes.

Respect for others’ differences is important, but so is patience and understanding. It is with these three elements that change can happen and acceptance can begin to truly occur.

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