Chanukah - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Chanukah
Friday, 19 December 2003 at 07:00 pm
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I have ideological issues with Chanukah. But this evening, I came home from work, and was so dead tired that I fell straight to sleep (this was the middle of the afternoon!) And I woke up and it was cold and dark, but there was my chanukah present from lethargic_man. All of a sudden, I felt far away from my family and my people, and I had a strong impulse to go out to the corner shop and buy nightlights with which I improvised a chanukah lamp.

Then I sat down and wrote a highly enthusiastic review of The Player of Games.

To those who care about such things, happy chanukah.


Moooood: tiredtired
Tuuuuune: Fauré: Cantique de Jean Racine
Discussion: 31 contributions | Contribute something
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redbird: default
From:redbird
Date:December 19th, 2003 07:29 pm (UTC)
23 minutes after journal entry, 03:29 pm (redbird's time)

If you don't mind

(Link)
I'm curious: what are your ideological issues with Chanukah? I can think of two broad categories: either dislike of its being treated as a major holiday, a Christmas substitute, or something about the holiday itself.
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chickenfeet2003: penguin
From:chickenfeet2003
Date:December 19th, 2003 07:31 pm (UTC)
25 minutes after journal entry, 03:31 pm (chickenfeet2003's time)

Re: If you don't mind

(Link)
Its a plot by the Israelis and the Americans to get their hands on even more oil!
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:December 19th, 2003 08:08 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 09:08 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
*giggle* Oh, I do like that as an answer!
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livredor: mask
From:livredor
Date:December 19th, 2003 08:07 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 09:07 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
what are your ideological issues with Chanukah?
As a thoroughly Hellenized Jew and a committed liberal with pacifist tendencies, I feel uncomfortable with celebrating the (rather violent) victory of a fundamentalist movement over their more moderate companions. Even the bowdlerized version I was taught as a kid doesn't strongly appeal; it's hard for me to weigh the bloodshed of the Maccabean uprising against self-determination for the Judea of two millennia ago. And, you know, the whole, let's instigate a victory festival just to show how we're not at all influenced by Greek culture, is a bit contrary, isn't it?

There are certainly aspects to the festival I don't mind; I have no problem with giving presents or eating doughnuts or lighting candles to make the darkness go away. And living at this lattitude, especially when Chanukah actually falls at the winter solstice, I have gained a pretty intense experience of darkness!

dislike of its being treated as a major holiday
It isn't really a major holiday, in this country, and certainly wasn't in my family. The whole having ideological issues thing was thoroughly part of my upbringing!

a Christmas substitute
I don't mind that terribly, actually. As a child I felt terribly special and exotic for being the only one in my class who didn't celebrate Christmas, but I can appreciate that some children are not like me and would rather feel left out. I'd much prefer that their parents make a bigger deal out of chanukah than is really called for, than that they make concessions to Christmas 'for the sake of the kids'. The former strikes me as much more positive; Judaism isn't simply not-Christianity, it's a tradition worth something in its own right.

or something about the holiday itself
I think that would be the one.
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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:December 20th, 2003 05:56 pm (UTC)
22 hours after journal entry, 06:56 pm (lethargic_man's time)

Issues with Chanucah

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what are your ideological issues with Chanukah?
As a thoroughly Hellenized Jew and a committed liberal with pacifist tendencies, I feel uncomfortable with celebrating the (rather violent) victory of a fundamentalist movement over their more moderate companions.

But that's not what the Maccabees were fighting for at all (regardless of the fact they were fundamentalists by modern standards). חנוכה isn't about fundamentalists fighting liberals; it's about people with integrity standing up to intolerance. Antiochus Epiphanes was a nutcase; he called himself Epiphanes (God Made Manifest) but was known as Epimanes (the mad). He refused to let the Jews practice their religion and insisted on the desecration of their Temple with offerings to foreign gods and sacrifices of pigs.

In this background it's easy to understand how those loyal to Yiddishkeit (to use an anachronism) became fundamentalistic and anti-Hellenist. But Judaism isn't per se anti-Hellenist; when Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, the Jews welcomed him with open arms. Also, "the Rabbis conceived of beauty under the category of purity, and longed for Japheth, i.e. the beauty of Greece, to dwell in the tents of Shem."*

* Hertz (sorry) p.35, unattributed in detail, I'm afraid.
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:December 21st, 2003 09:47 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry

Re: Issues with Chanucah

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That may be the case, but right now you can read any number of modern drashes that talk about how wonderful it is that we've thrown off the nasty Hellenistic culture - there are children's magazines knocking around my own reasonably liberal shul that talk about how great it is to be a Jew and how revolting it is to associate with goyyim, and how it's really disgusting to absorb any elements of goyyishe culture. Here it isn't made to be about fighting intolerance, it's about fighting outside influences, and in that context, I too prefer not to put too much emphasis on celebrating Chanukah. Maybe if the prevailing culture was basically tolerant of outside influence I would be able to appreciate the aspects you mention, but it isn't. This is a time of year to tell small children that the evil Greeks threw small children off the tops of buildings and that all goyyim are nasty. Yeah, great festival.

(although this may merely be symptomatic of Jerusalem as opposed to Jewry as a whole)
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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:December 21st, 2003 05:34 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 06:34 pm (lethargic_man's time)

Re: Issues with Chanucah

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Any religion can be hijacked by fundamentalist tendencies. And in Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, where there's precious little in the way of middle ground between the חרדים and the secular, one can again see why that has happened.

But does the blame for that lie on the religion?

Well yes, partly; the Orthodox liturgy is packed full of expressions such as באיאמ"ה שלא עשני נכרי that are liable to misinterpretation in a racist manner. But equally no, partly; as a close examination of the liturgy and its biblical sources show the whole concept of Jews being the Chosen People to be in order that they be a light unto the nations. The fault is here that of the fundamentalists for engaging in a narrow reading of the texts, and ignoring the bits that don't fit with their worldview.

Yes, I know I'm treading on dangerous ground here. Go ahead; knock me down if you want.
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:December 21st, 2003 05:50 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry

Re: Issues with Chanucah

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I don't really want to knock you down, clearly you can argue it six ways till the cows come home - my deal is that you celebrate Chanuka your way and I'll celebrate it my way; my way is appropriate for me in today's Jerusalem, and your way presumably works for you.
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livredor: mask
From:livredor
Date:December 21st, 2003 09:40 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 10:40 pm (livredor's time)

(Link)
how great it is to be a Jew and how revolting it is to associate with goyyim, and how it's really disgusting to absorb any elements of goyyishe culture
Ach, my poor badger! I'm so sorry you're getting this kind of crap. I can very vividly remember how absolutely sickened I was the first time I heard 'goyim' used in a derogatory sense, and it doesn't get much easier with familiarity. There are many things I love about Judaism, but just occasionally certain sections of the community make me deeply, deeply ashamed.

Whether refusing to celebrate chanukah is the answer, I honestly can't say (despite my flippant remarks above; many apologies if I touched a raw nerve). I can definitely see the point that in the far from ideal context where you find yourself, it's probably the most appropriate response.

I must admit that I really admired that single light thing you did at Hengrave a couple of years back; making a point of doing the absolute bare letter of the law minimum is an extremely stylish approach. Not that I'd ever expect anything less of you.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:December 21st, 2003 10:11 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 11:11 pm (lethargic_man's time)

Of token rebellions in religion

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I must admit that I really admired that single light thing you did at Hengrave a couple of years back; making a point of doing the absolute bare letter of the law minimum is an extremely stylish approach.

That reminds me of the situation in Guy Gavriel Kay's (fantasy novel) Tigana, in which every year there is a three day period, the Ember Days, during which no fires are to be lit or maintained.

There is a people in the book who have undergone a national disaster -- the conquest of their land, the destruction of its cities, the death of their king, the oppression of the people and even the taking away by sorcery of their land's name. We meet a member of this people who insists on keeping a single light lit through the Ember Days, as a symbol of the way her people have been let down by their god.

I was most struck with this when I read it; it struck me as a very apt way of registering rage at the G-d you continue, nonetheless, to serve. ("Not bloody theodicy again," groans rysmiel.) However, I never could see an easy way to fit it into Judaism.

Maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough. (Or very hard at all, for that matter.)
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rysmiel: bloody theodicy again
From:rysmiel
Date:December 22nd, 2003 08:35 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 04:35 pm (rysmiel's time)

Re: Of token rebellions in religion

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There is a people in the book who have undergone a national disaster -- the conquest of their land, the destruction of its cities, the death of their king, the oppression of the people and even the taking away by sorcery of their land's name. We meet a member of this people who insists on keeping a single light lit through the Ember Days, as a symbol of the way her people have been let down by their god.

My connection with that was the Bealtaine fire, and St. Patrick breaking the Ban.
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:January 3rd, 2004 12:42 pm (UTC)
14 days after journal entry, 01:42 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
That reminds me of the situation in Guy Gavriel Kay's (fantasy novel) Tigana
Thanks, that's a very interesting comparison. I think there's a substantive difference between protesting against the status quo by lighting in a dark period, and by being temperate about lights when everyone around is going overboard. Still, interesting idea.

it struck me as a very apt way of registering rage at the G-d you continue, nonetheless, to serve.
Do you know the story of the group of rabbis in the Camps who put God on trial for allowing the Shoah to happen? And the trial was very long and complicated, and went on and on for hours, but eventually the rabbis returned a guilty verdict. But before they could pass sentence, their disciples reminded them, "Our masters, it is time to recite the Shema".

I am a little uncomfortable with repeating that story, because I can't be sure of its authenticity. I'm not sure this reluctance is entirely rational; I'm quite happy promulgating myths from earlier times with no idea of whether they are literally historically true, so why should myths referring to the Holocaust be any different? Anyway, the immediate source is The Rosh Hashanah / Yom Kippur Survival Kit (Apisdorf 1992) which we use quite a lot in our HHD liturgy.

Not bloody theodicy again
Well, having said all the above, I don't think that taking issues with Chanukah is really about theodicy at all. It's registering a protest, maybe even rage at certain parts of the historical and current Jewish community failing to live up to our holy heritage.

However, I never could see an easy way to fit it into Judaism.
Maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough. (Or very hard at all, for that matter.)

If you ever get a chance to hear R. Wittenberg speak, you should definitely do so. I have always been aware of a strong tradition of theodicy and even protest against God within Judaism; it permeates both our liturgy and our scholarship. But some of that stuff you might find too weird and Reform to be meaningful to you; R. Wittenberg is Masorti his stuff is completely rooted in tradition.
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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:October 13th, 2005 07:49 pm (UTC)
664 days after journal entry, 08:49 pm (lethargic_man's time)

Re: Of token rebellions in religion

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It struck me a little while ago (but I forgot to mention it to you) that actually I do have an equivalent in my life of the refusing to extinguish all flames on the Ember Days: I don't, and won't, bow in the High Holyday services.

This year everyone else in eye range without my actually looking about was bowing; I was the only one not. But I stuck to my guns; I'll worship the Creator but won't bow to a god the liturgy claims to reward the good but allows <insert example of choice> to happen.
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:December 22nd, 2003 06:38 am (UTC)
2 days after journal entry
(Link)
I still do a single light, but it's not fair, W does the usual number, and since the mitzvah is on the building rather than the individual, doing one in our house doesn't have the same significance any more...still, it makes me happier. I think they probably deserve one light.
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:January 3rd, 2004 12:53 pm (UTC)
14 days after journal entry, 01:53 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
I still do a single light
And you are still very stylish! Yay hatam_soferet.

the mitzvah is on the building rather than the individual
Really, I didn't know that! Are there many mitzvot that come into that category? OK, house leprosy, that's obviously got to apply to the house. Building a succah? Is that household or individual?
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:January 4th, 2004 02:14 pm (UTC)
15 days after journal entry
(Link)
There isn't a mitzvah to *build* a succah, only to *sit* in one. Consequently, that's binding on the individual, but you don't have to own the succah, only to have permission to use it.

Other things that the household has to do but aren't the province of a particular individual...what about mezuzah? If you move into a house that's alreay kitted out with mezuzot, you don't have to do anything. Perhaps hospitality? It gets confused quite quickly with the things that the Man of the House has to do, he being representative of the household. W's out right now, so no input from there :)
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:January 4th, 2004 02:46 pm (UTC)
15 days after journal entry, 03:46 pm (livredor's time)

(Link)
Thank you so much, so useful having such a knowledgeable person in range.

I was confused about both succah and mezuzah, cos of never having been in a situation where either just happens. Pretty much, if I want to sit in a succah, I need to build one, and if I want my dwelling to have mezuzot, I need to fix them. Thus the building and fixing are sort of contingent to my being able to perform the mitzvot of sitting and having.

But the hospitality could be a very interesting example.
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:January 4th, 2004 03:24 pm (UTC)
15 days after journal entry
(Link)
W couldn't think of any others about households, but he suggested as a parallel the argument about tzitzit - whether it's a mitzvah only if you possess a four-cornered garment, or whether the mitzvah is to own a four-cornered garment with tzitzit.
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From:neonchameleon
Date:December 22nd, 2003 11:25 am (UTC)
2 days after journal entry
(Link)
I must admit that I really admired that single light thing you did at Hengrave a couple of years back; making a point of doing the absolute bare letter of the law minimum is an extremely stylish approach.

Interesting. That, to me, is the obvious response.
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:January 3rd, 2004 01:01 pm (UTC)
14 days after journal entry, 02:01 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Interesting. That, to me, is the obvious response.
Well, yes, it's obvious if you happen to be aware of the detail of the halacha regarding Chanukah. And if you are confident enough in your knowledge to follow it through and behave in a way that makes you stand out in a context which is very much about everybody following the same practice. I think if you regard this as obvious, you haven't properly understood the background.
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From:neonchameleon
Date:January 5th, 2004 05:32 pm (UTC)
16 days after journal entry
(Link)
The principle not the practice is the obvious part. It does take extreme confidence and good research. On the other hand, I've always been a fan of following bad or stupid laws to the letter and never one of fences about the law (other than to use as climbing frames).
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:December 20th, 2003 06:19 pm (UTC)
23 hours after journal entry, 07:19 pm (lethargic_man's time)

Attitudes to Chanukah

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And, you know, the whole, let's instigate a victory festival just to show how we're not at all influenced by Greek culture, is a bit contrary, isn't it? [...] There are certainly aspects to the festival I don't mind; I have no problem with giving presents

Of course, the custom of giving presents at huile-tide (<ducks>) was taken from the Christians, and the Maccabees would have called it Greek and foreign.

Not that I personally have any problem with being given presents. ;^)
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:December 22nd, 2003 06:44 am (UTC)
2 days after journal entry

Re: Attitudes to Chanukah

(Link)
Well, everyone knows that giving presents this time of year is participation in the festival of worship to the god of money, don't they? Praise ye the god of gold, and all that.
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rysmiel: bloody theodicy again
From:rysmiel
Date:December 22nd, 2003 08:32 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 04:32 pm (rysmiel's time)

Re: Attitudes to Chanukah

(Link)
I like womzilla's distinction between the religious festival, be it Chanukah or Christmas, and the secular give-people-gifts occasion, which he refers to as Santanalia.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:January 3rd, 2004 01:25 pm (UTC)
14 days after journal entry, 02:25 pm (livredor's time)

(Link)
I do like Santanalia. That's a much needed word, and a lovely coinage, thanks for passing that one on.
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livredor: teeeeeeeeea (thanks to darcydodo)
From:livredor
Date:January 3rd, 2004 01:22 pm (UTC)
14 days after journal entry, 02:22 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
giving presents this time of year is participation in the festival of worship to the god of money
Ooh, aren't we cynical! But you do have a good point. I generally don't bother with festive present exchanging; doughnuts for people at work, and sweeties for the cheder kids is about my limit.

Praise ye the god of gold, and all that
Oh, I remember when you did those 'god of gold' Christmas cards, they were very stylish as well!
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livredor: hands
From:livredor
Date:January 3rd, 2004 01:17 pm (UTC)
14 days after journal entry, 02:17 pm (livredor's time)

(Link)
the custom of giving presents at huile-tide ()
Now that really is dreadful. But anyway, moving on...

was taken from the Christians, and the Maccabees would have called it Greek and foreign
Yes, true, but as I was pointing out the custom of instigating national festivals to celebrate military victories is definitely Greek and foreign. The whole existence of Chanukah contradicts itself.

Not that I personally have any problem with being given presents. ;^)
Do you have any idea how difficult you are to buy presents for? You don't get excited about any kinds of luxury foods, you don't like stuff because you keep your life uncluttered, you dress mostly in a functional way so I can't give you dress-type ornaments... So what does that leave? Bookies, I suppose, but you're very sensible about simply buying for yourself any books you happen to want.

In such restricted circumstances I can only do my best, but it's not a very good best.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:January 9th, 2004 09:37 am (UTC)
20 days after journal entry, 10:37 am (lethargic_man's time)

Chanukah

(Link)
the custom of giving presents at huile-tide () was taken from the Christians, and the Maccabees would have called it Greek and foreign

Yes, true, but as I was pointing out the custom of instigating national festivals to celebrate military victories is definitely Greek and foreign.

Is it? What about Purim? I wonder when the earliest mention of Purim outside the (dubiously-dated) Book of Esther is.

Not that I personally have any problem with being given presents. ;^)

Do you have any idea how difficult you are to buy presents for? You don't get excited about any kinds of luxury foods, you don't like stuff because you keep your life uncluttered, you dress mostly in a functional way so I can't give you dress-type ornaments... So what does that leave? Bookies, I suppose, but you're very sensible about simply buying for yourself any books you happen to want.
In such restricted circumstances I can only do my best, but it's not a very good best.

Sorry; I had no idea I was so contrary. Can I ask for examples of my not getting excited about any kinds of luxury foods? As for "stuff", though I'll mostly turn it down as kipple left to my own devices, I'm not completely averse to getting cool stuff. I'd have been happy getting the Chanukah present I got you, or the puzzle ring Sarah got Maria. As for clothing, again I suppose I'm not averse to coolness (though that doesn't mean fashionable clothing). You've seen my Prisoner T-shirt, and I'm currently wearing a Miskatonic University sweatshirt. And I've told you about how Paul bribed me into getting a new suit for his wedding (the old one was perfectly serviceable, but I'd been wearing it in the photos from the previous family שמחה) by getting me a Roadrunner tie.
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livredor: hands
From:livredor
Date:January 14th, 2004 10:02 pm (UTC)
26 days after journal entry, 11:02 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Do you have any idea how difficult you are to buy presents for?
Sorry; I had no idea I was so contrary.
Ça, you're not really contrary, it's more that I'm unimaginative about present buying.

Can I ask for examples of my not getting excited about any kinds of luxury foods?
I think what I meant was, you don't get excited about the kinds of foods where the luxury variety is significantly more exciting than the ordinary variety, and which I am knowledgeable enough about to be effective at buying. You don't drink, which rules out a whole swathe of stuff. And you don't like cheese and you don't appreciate serious chocolate.

Now that you've pulled me up on it I can in fact think of a few possibilities; frivolous chocolate, for a start. But I think I shall try giving you these things rather than telling you about them!

As for "stuff", though I'll mostly turn it down as kipple left to my own devices,
Knowing this means I have very little confidence to buy you anything even if I think it's cool, because I always worry that you might not agree with my assessment.

I'm not completely averse to getting cool stuff
No, that would be considerably obsessive! I have not yet found something that I want to give you and am convinced is cool, but I'll keep looking.

I'd have been happy getting the Chanukah present I got you
The thing is, that's exactly the kind of thing I would never think of. If I had seen that little birdie in a shop, I would almost certainly not have paused long enough to register that it's cool. And I most certainly wouldn't have thought of giving it as a present.

or the puzzle ring Sarah got Maria
I don't think I can give you rings, dear.

As for clothing, again I suppose I'm not averse to coolness
Nah, fair nuff. I should have thought of that as a possibility, especially since it's easy enough to put just about any image on clothes. Hm.

I'm sure it is against all kinds of rules of etiquette to discuss with the intended recipient what presents I should buy that person. *shrug*
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:January 21st, 2004 11:34 pm (UTC)
33 days after journal entry, January 22nd, 2004 12:34 am (lethargic_man's time)

Of dilemmas over present-giving

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If I had seen that little birdie in a shop, I would almost certainly not have paused long enough to register that it's cool.

As I might have mentioned, the only reason I did was because I recalled my father describing nodding birds to me a decade earlier.

I'm sure it is against all kinds of rules of etiquette to discuss with the intended recipient what presents I should buy that person. *shrug*

Depends if it's a surprise present. "Is there anything in particular you'd like for your birthday/Chanukah/etc?" has a venerable history.
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:January 31st, 2004 06:22 pm (UTC)
42 days after journal entry, 07:22 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
the custom of instigating national festivals to celebrate military victories is definitely Greek and foreign

Is it? What about Purim?
That's sort of a good counterexample, actually. I was going to say that the difference is that Esther is a prophet(ess) whereas Judah the Maccabee most certainly isn't, and indeed lived after the end of the age of prophecy. But of course there's no internal evidence to that effect, being as how the strange thing about Esther is its failure to mention God at all.

I wonder when the earliest mention of Purim outside the (dubiously-dated) Book of Esther is.
To an extent it doesn't matter when Esther dates from; clearly it was well established in canon by the time we get any kind of she be'al peh at all. And most probably before the time of the Maccabees. So you're not going to be able to find any discussion of Purim as a new festival in the way you get with Chanukah.
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