Holiday Reading For All

It’s Christmas time in the Watcher’s house and I warn you, I write this post as an angry person. I vow however that I will not let the people that run this country spoil Christmas for me or my family. In fact they give me strength to fight more after this brief break that allows me to celebrate the birth of Jesus while my Jewish friends celebrate the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Rather than waste this space on weasels I will dedicate today’s post to the two religious observances that weasels seem to hate most, the birth of Jesus and the 8 day miracle of the menorah that is celebrated as Hanukkah.

The History Channel offers a good brief history of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights, starting on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (which is November-December on the Gregorian calendar). In Hebrew, the word “Hanukkah” means “dedication.”

The holiday commemorates the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews’ 165 B.C.E. victory over the Hellenist Syrians. Antiochus, the Greek King of Syria, outlawed Jewish rituals and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods.

In 168 B.C.E. the Jews’ holy Temple was seized and dedicated to the worship of Zeus.

Some Jews were afraid of the Greek soldiers and obeyed them, but most were angry and decided to fight back.

The fighting began in Modiin, a village not far from Jerusalem. A Greek officer and soldiers assembled the villagers, asking them to bow to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig, activities forbidden to Jews. The officer asked Mattathias, a Jewish High Priest, to take part in the ceremony. He refused, and another villager stepped forward and offered to do it instead. Mattathias became outraged, took out his sword and killed the man, then killed the officer. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked and killed the soldiers. Mattathias’ family went into hiding in the nearby mountains, where many other Jews who wanted to fight the Greeks joined them. They attacked the Greek soldiers whenever possible.

Judah Maccabee and his soldiers went to the holy Temple, and were saddened that many things were missing or broken, including the golden menorah. They cleaned and repaired the Temple, and when they were finished, they decided to have a big dedication ceremony. For the celebration, the Maccabees wanted to light the menorah. They looked everywhere for oil, and found a small flask that contained only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. This gave them enough time to obtain new oil to keep the menorah lit. Today Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days by lighting candles in a menorah every night, thus commemorating the eight-day miracle.

What many people may not realize is that the act of celebrating Christmas was actually banned by many as the Christian observance of the birth of Christ coincides with many long running ancient observances of the winter solstice and pagan festivals. In fact Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681, and not even observed as a federal holiday until 1870.

In the early 19th century Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon where he depicted the Christmas traditions of an English manor house. The squire invited peasants into his home for the holiday where they mingled peacefully.

The American tradition of Christmas spread in a revival after the civil war from the south up through the north.

As a religious holiday Christmas has its roots in the Roman Catholic church.

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and to all a warm and loving Holiday season from the Watchers Council.

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