Santa

Seeking a Hanukkah miracle: Why can't the Gray Lady 'get' the Festival of Lights?

Seeking a Hanukkah miracle: Why can't the Gray Lady 'get' the Festival of Lights?

Now here is a headline that a GetReligion scribe has to pass along, pronto: “Why can’t the New York Times get Hanukkah right?”

What we’re talking about is a Religion News Service commentary by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin. Consider this a kind of early weekend think piece, since it’s talking about op-ed page work.

However, religion-beat professionals will certainly want to read (and maybe file way) this to get a refresher on some history and facts about the eight-day “Festival of Lights,” which is a relatively minor Jewish holiday that punches way above its weight class for reasons that are quite ironic, to say the least.

The opening is very clever and slightly snarky at the same time.

Every few years, the New York Times runs a contest: “Best Essay About Hanukkah By An Ambivalent Jew.”

That is the only explanation for this past week’s crop of New York Times op-ed pieces about Hanukkah.

“The Gray Lady” is showing signs of advanced Jewish arteriosclerosis.

Take yesterday’s article, “That’s One Alternative Santa.”

The author, a comedy writer, begins with the traditional disavowal of any substantive Jewish connections or affiliations.

In theological terms, there is little love lost between me and Judaism. But culturally — with my unwavering devotion to [Howard] Stern on the radio, [Philip] Roth on the page, [Bob] Dylan on the stereo and kugel in the oven — I am a Hasid.

This self-identification as a Rhett Butler Jew — “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” — points him in the direction of embracing the “traditional” Hanukkah symbol — Hanukkah Harry — a fictional character on Saturday Night Live.

You get the idea. Somehow, I had missed “Hanukkah Harry.” Just lucky, I guess.

Here’s the big question: What does all of this have to do with Judaism? That leads to a common debate topic this time of year: Are we talking Judaism the religion or Judaism the culture.

The answer, of course, is “yes.”

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What do you know? Washington Post runs 'news you can use' feature about real St. Nicholas

What do you know? Washington Post runs 'news you can use' feature about real St. Nicholas

First things first: A blessed Feast of the Nativity to one and all, especially for those in church traditions that follow the liturgical calendar rather than the calendar of the Chamber of Commerce. Christmas is here and, well, Donald Trump has nothing to do with it.

So, thinking about church history, I was worried when I saw a Washington Post analysis piece with a headline that proclaimed: "Five myths about Saint Nick."

I was, of course, worried about that word "myth." Quite frankly, I was worried -- in the context of St. Nicholas of Myra -- about either of the most common definitions of this term:

1. A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events. ...
2. A widely held but false belief or idea.

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, calling St. Nicholas of Myra a "myth" is, well, fightin' words. At the same time, connecting the secular superhero named Santa with St. Nicholas the saint would present trouble for other people. I've written a whole lot about both sides of that tension (click here for more).

Some Orthodox folks might quibble with a few words of this piece, written by Adam C. English, a Christian studies professor at Campbell University, a Baptist campus in in North Caroline. He is the author of “The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra.”

However, the big idea of this piece is spot on: Yes, there is a real St. Nicholas. However, he is not the man at the shopping mall.

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A Christmas season think piece: Why pass on the beloved lie that is Santa Claus?

A Christmas season think piece: Why pass on the beloved lie that is Santa Claus?

It happens almost every year during the week before Christmas.

Someone sends an email to a list of friends (usually veteran parents and grandparents), or posts an item on Facebook that raises this old question: Is anyone else getting uncomfortable with the whole Santa drama?

There is always a second question that flows naturally out of that: What is the purpose of this elaborate and dramatic lie? What are we trying to teach our children by doing this and what do we say to them once the charade is up? After all, in families with many children the old ones have to help sustain the lie for the little folks.

A confession from me: My wife and I, even before converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, decided -- primarily based on my work in mass-media studies, with a lot of reading about advertising -- to skip Santa Claus and tell our children that St. Nicholas of Myra -- as in the 4th-century bishop -- was a real person. The also noted that people have long honored him on his feast day (Dec. 6th on the Gregorian calendar) with gift-giving traditions that eventually, in culture after culture, morphed into something else. We told them not to play that game with other kids, but not to mock them or, well, tell them the truth, either. The key: In our faith, saints are real.

Journalists, if this subject interests you -- especially the secular, materialistic side of this equation -- then you should read and file an essay at The Atlantic by Megan Garber that ran with the loaded headline:

Spoiler: Santa Claus and the Invention of Childhood
How St. Nick went from “beloved icon” to “beloved lie”

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Really? Editors who don't know about the 'reindeer rules'?

Sorry about this, folks, but we need to take a quick glance back at a lingering “Christmas wars” story from 2013. You would think, by this time, that everyone within a light year or two of a newsroom and/or public courthouse would have heard of the whole “reindeer rules” battles linked to public officials allowing the erection of Christmas creches (or Menorahs) on public property. If you want a quick refresher on some related issues, check out this recent post from our resident Godbeat patriarch Richard Ostling.

As always, let me state right up front that — on the creche issue itself — I have no idea why so many religious people want to put plastic versions of the symbols of their faith on the lawns of the secular sanctuaries where you have to go to fight about traffic tickets, to have a secular marriage rite, etc., etc. If creches are all that important, why not have every single church in town put one up, along with waves of public symbolism on patches of private property, and save all of the lawyer fees for charitable use?

But back to the public-square issue and the resulting journalism issues. As I wrote about a decade ago:

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Hail Epiphany and farewell to Christmas (and white Santas)

First things first: I hope that readers who are into that whole Christian calendar had a great 12 days of the real Christmas season, as opposed to the six or seven weeks of whatever that is that ends with an explosion of wrapping paper on Dec. 25. So this brings us to the great Feast of Epiphany, which in our ancient churches is the second most important day on the calendar after Easter/Pascha. More important than Christmas? Well, it’s hard to rank these things, but the key element of this day — marking the baptism of Jesus — is the scriptural account of the revealing of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. That’s big. In the West, the feast tends to focus on the arrival of the Three Kings at the cradle of Jesus.

To my surprise, Epiphany has been getting a bit more news ink in recent years (surf this search-engine file for a current sample).

Personally, I think it’s the whole photo-op principle at work. I mean, who doesn’t want to show up to put the following into shivering pixels?

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