Sunday, 5 December 2010

Festivals r4 Everyone (or “Hannukah and her Sisters”)

Anyone who knows me might expect a righteous rant this time of year about how Christmas is much older than Christianity and Santa is nothing more than an advert for Coke, but I’m not such a cynic. Christmas is lush. I cannot recommend heartily enough Tim Minchin’s white wine in the sun, a beautiful secular carol and I think the Muppet’s Christmas Carol is one of the finest works of cinema of the last twenty years. I’m a sucker for Christmas.
Yes, it does kind of annoy me when the religious bang on about the “true” meaning of Christmas and talk about the nativity as fact but they know as well an anybody (in the UK at least) that it was an ancient winter feast of indulgence long before the Christians made it here. Then, of course, you have the mentals who will bang on about the druids and the pagans and ancient rituals (little realising that most of the gubbins surrounding ancient mysticism was invented in the 18th or 19th Century by posh blokes with too much time on their hands). Sigh.
You know what, though? They’re welcome to whatever they want to believe in. Much the same as I believe in every field of thought – follow your own opinion as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. Have your festival and dress up, decorate, do what you fancy. Follow traditions or invent your own. Hooray. Everybody part – whoops. Nearly used the word “party” as a verb – have fun.
Oh wait. Hang on.
I can’t let this one slide. I investigated Hannukah. I shouldn’t, I know. There’s no way I’m going to be agreeing with it, so why torture myself? Well, here’s why.
I’ve been watching the excellent “Walking Dead” on FX, and it’s been surrounded by ads for “Joop: Homme” or – as the bloke says – “Jew Pom”. I’ve been so perplexed with a combination of chuckles and shame that it’s been making me think of the plight of the British Jewish Male. Which leads me on to Olly Mann on the brilliant “answer me this”. He (and Helen and Martin-the-sound-man) constantly invite listeners to question everything. And send their questions to him. And for him to answer them. And they’re, like, funny. And that.
But all I can think of in December (since I looked it up) is “Hannukah? Is that it? Seriously?” and I don’t want to so blatantly challenge anybody’s precious beliefs about any holidays.
But come on. Have you heard it?
A tribe called the Maccabees frees their temple from an occupying force. They rededicate their temple by relighting an “eternal flame” but then realise they don’t have enough oil. It will take eight days to make more oil. The oil lasts until more oil is made. MIRACLE!
Let’s pretend for a second that nobody called the leader an idiot for relighting an “eternal flame” without the goods to back it up. Let’s further pretend that the amount of oil originally available was correctly assessed to be only a day’s worth. Let’s add to that pretence the idea that nobody in this new Jewish state would secretly add any oil they found to keep it going. Let us, in fact, go so far as to say that all laws of the natural world insisted that the flame would go out at the end of day one but a deity stepped in and kept the flame burning.
Is that it? Is that seriously the miracle on which you’re going to base an entire holiday? God barely turned up. He could have made an actual appearance. He could have spoken with a voice of thunder, sent pillars of smoke or flame, burned bushes, parted rivers, he could have sent them a “thanks for retaking my temple” card from a newsagent.
But no. The light didn’t go out. That’s it.
God barely even got out of bed for that one. This was the snooze button of miracles.
I’m sure there are pompous, pious explanations full of “aah”s and “my poor fool”s and such but truly – I don’t want to throw any kind of challenge to anybody. I support your right to believe if you do. It’s just ... it’s no wonder that when Christianity (itself only a breakaway sect of Judaism after all) came along it did things a bit louder. None of these new ideas were an iota more plausible than the old ones but at least they don’t provoke a reaction of “really? Is that it?”
Still, the great news for modern day Judaism is that Christmas is so decidedly torn from its religious trappings that everybody can fling presents at each other in as ostentatious a manner as they can afford. Just avoid adverts around “The Walking Dead”. You may find them offensive.
Christians should be fine with it; and the show is about creatures risen from the dead – it should be just like Sunday school.*
*it definitely isn’t.

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