How do you tell the Hanukka story? What do you tell?
So with my geeky friends I talk about all the detail, the question of how we got a rabbinic festival out of an Apocryphal book and folk tradition, the rules about what order to light and not making use of the candles.
With my skeptical family I talk about how chanukah is really problematic, and how Granny went to a lecture by a historian of the period who gave lots of reasons why the story as told in Maccabees couldn't possibly have happened, and how we feel uncomfortable celebrating a military victory and the triumph of violent nationalists over assimilated moderates.
With colleagues and people who feel it's polite to ask but don't really care, the tl;dr summary is
God performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this seasonaka chanukah absolutely fits the joke paradigm for Jewish festivals:
They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat
With people who are new to chanukah and don't know to ask for the story, well, I begin for them...
No, seriously, mostly I tell it as a story about the occupying empire trying to impose their religion on the Jewish population, and the Maccabees were freedom fighters and once their guerilla campaign succeeded they cleaned out the defiled Temple and then there was an oil lamp miracle. I am aware that
delivered the many into the hands of the fewhas other interpretations, see above re: problematic, but that's not on the whole what I'm celebrating at chanukah. And, well, when I'm teaching Christian children I down-play the part about how a human being can't possibly be God, and how it's really really wrong to make statues and images of God.
This weekend my OSOs came up with their two younger kids, partly in order to join the synagogue chanukah party. We also went to the excellent Gladstone Pottery museum, and played a lot of games and gave eachother chanukah presents, Triominos and some dessert wine for me, toys from the museum shop for the kids. Not to mention that I joined my loves for the church service for Gaudete Sunday which was full of seasonally appropriate rejoicing.
So yesterday afternoon I orchestrated the community to bring their chanukiyot and light them all together, about a dozen families I think, that's a lot of candles, especially on eighth night. And we sang Maoz Tzur to something approximating to the correct tune, and I had the kids play human dreidel for chocolate coins and then for pennies when we ran out of those, and we ate soooooooo many doughnuts and quite a lot of latkes and other sorts of fritters. (Boyfriend thinks that a religious custom of eating lots of doughnuts is a great idea, and I concur.) I told the story by getting the kids to act things out, the teenagers were too cool and the baby was too little but the three to seven age-group were pretty enthusiastic, and Judith was really good in the role of her near-namesake Judah, she's been paying attention through the week and gave all the right answers to my prompts.
The truth is that chanukah has not only acquired borrowed importance by proximity to Christmas, it's acquired warm fuzziness too. Chanukah is really not at all the season of goodwill, it's the season of, living as a minority in a dominant culture sucks, please send Divine support for our nationalist cause. We invite our non-Jewish friends to join us for doughnuts and candlelighting, and sometimes dignitaries at various levels do little chanukah ceremonies to show friendliness to the Jewish community, and it's all very cute. But the content and the history of the festival is mostly about how multi-culturalism is a bad idea, and it has probably the most explicitly anti-Christian content of anything in our calendar. Still, pretty much all of rabbinic Judaism is about reinterpreting traditions for the context we find ourselves in, and I think multi-cultural celebrations are pretty appropriate in terms of increasing light and joy.
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