Virtual Advent Calendar, December 5: Oh Hanukkah

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I’m going to try to find a Yiddish version of Oh Hanukkah to post tonight and some other Hanukkah songs like Maoz Tsur and maybe some Ladino ones like Ocho Kandelikas.

    The secularization of Hanukkah is even more interesting than the secular version of Christmas considering its an observes the victory of Traditionalists over Hellenizers in a Jewish civil war.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Regarding the posting of more Hanukkah music: yay!

      Regarding the secularization of Hanukkah: Is it too late to do a guest post on this, because I think it would be awesome. If so, maybe next year?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I’m not sure if I can make the secularization of Hanukkah into an entire post but it was basically an immigrant response to Christmas in early 20th century America.

        For most of Jewish history after the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, Hanukkah was an exceedingly minor holiday for various reasons. The main one was that the Rabbis were descendents of the Pharisees and the Hasmonean monarchy that emerged after the Maccebbean Revolt persecuted the Pharisees. The Rabbis felt it important to include Hanukkah but limited it to a minor holiday status and did not include the Books of the Maccabbees in the Tanakh.

        All of this remained good and well into the mid-19th century when secular Christmas emerged with full force into the European and American worlds. Secular Christmas with its treees, gifts, treats, and Santa Claus is a very appealing Holiday for kids. Previously this wouldn’t be an issue because Jews were kept in ghettos and socially isolated but by the mid-19th century Jews in Central and Western Europe were outside the ghettos, acculturating and assimiating, and also secularizing. Lots of them took up the celebration of Secular Christmas for the kids and did not think too much about any theological issues involved with Jews celebrating Christmas.

        Than the governments of Russia and Romania learned that Jews made good scapegoats and millions of what were than called Ost-Juden, the East Jews, left Russia and Romania. The Ost-Juden were Orthodox in religion and generally stayed so for longer than their Central European cousins. Even if a German Jew was Orthodox when they immigrated to the United States, they usually dropped a lot of this upon entry. The Ost-Juden stayed ostensibly Orthodox for at least a generation or two in the United States or elsewhere. Most Jewish baby-boomers, the grandchildren of the Ost-Juden immigrants, were the first in their family not raised Orthodox.

        The Jews of Eastern Europe had many more concerns about celebrating Christmas because they saw it as a Christian celebration even its most secularized and commercial form. The fact that the Jews of Eastern Europe had a folk tradition of treating Christmas as a day of semi-morning did not help the manner. At the same time, secular Christmas is still a very appealing holiday for kids and some immigrant parents thought that something had to be done. Somewhere, probably on the Lower East side in New York City, a Jewish immigrant parent or group of parents rediscovered Hanukkah and noticed that it tends to fall around the same time as Christmas and can be turned into a Jewish gift giving holiday without too many problems. This solved the problem of Christmas envy without having to actually celebrate Christmas.Report

  2. Avatar Angela says:

    I thought this was an interesting story, as well as a pretty good song.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2009/12/the-true-story-of-orrin-hatchs-hanukkah-song/31567/

    (I tend to prefer the more “bouncy / energetic” songs for the holidays. If I listen to too many of the sad / introspective songs, I end up crying on the couch. As I’ve gotten older, there are so many loved ones that have passed and people who live too far away to stay close.)Report

  3. As the Most Jewish Person Available, I was called upon to speak to my son’s preschool class about Hanukkah yesterday. (Interest was sparked when my son brought our menorah for show-and-tell on Monday.) It was delightful, actually, particularly the bit where (repeating after me) a dozen 4-year-old giddily yelled “Maccabees!!!”

    I was forced to admit ignorance when asked why jelly doughnuts are a traditional Hanukkah food. (I was informed a short time later via text message from my Jewish best friend that it is because they are fried in oil.)Report

  4. Avatar NewDealer says:

    You are quite the musicologist Tod. Lee’s comment on the secularization of Hannukah is about as good as it gets and can probably be pasted into an entry.

    The more fraught issue is how much Christmas exposure to Jews give to their children. Dahlia Lithwick’s article on what Christmas specials she and her husband were allowed to watch is a minor classic:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_holidays/2008/12/oy_hark.html. My favorite quote:

    “I, for instance, grew up in a household that viewed only How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas as acceptable Jewish holiday fare. My husband, on the other hand, tells me he grew up with unfettered access to the whole panoply of animated Christmas specials. When we discussed this for the first time last weekend, I gasped: “They let you watch Rudolph?” I confess that I spoke the words as though his family had permitted him to spend his Decembers camped out in a crèche.”Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

      Rudolph was invented by Jews as a marketing gimmic for a Jewish-owned department store in the mid-20th century. I’d say that Jewish children can watch as long as a celebration of Jewish commercial ability.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    My Goyim Friends was as much fun as Oh Hanukkah. Which is to say, a lot. They brought a much-needed smile after a tough day.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    As promised here are more Hanukkah songs.

    We start with Oh Hanukkah in Yiddish and English sung by Theodore Bikel:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxH0xF84h_0

    Than comes another favorite from Medieval Germany, Maoz Tzur, which translates as Rock of Ages that asks God for redemption

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-Z3-mqU6PU

    We follow with Peter, Paul, and Mary singing Hayo Haya, which briefly tells the story of Hanukkah.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1K-mFzcLFk

    Coming up next is Oregon’s Pink Martini singing in Ocho Kandelikas, a Ladino song. Its not a very old song, it was written in 1983.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tGBBghkic8

    We end with the dreydl song in Yiddish

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FC_Aqsqvk4Report

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