‘Tis The Season To Be Cynical

reindeer menorahI must say I’m pleased with the rebellion against Christmas as the default wintertime holiday in this culture.

However, this Chrismukkah thing is sooo lame. I understand that interfaith families need support, but reindeer menorahs are just gross. And while its new kitschy, faux-Jewish-mother-voiced cookbook with recipes like Blintzen’s Blintzes and Fakakta Figgy Pudding might sound clever, it’ll only make for some damned confused kids who might grow up thinking the Maccabees defeated Jesus with some olive oil but he rose again so that the matzah didn’t have to — or somesuch bubbeminza.

And then there’s Festivus, touted as “the holiday for the rest of us” on an episode of Seinfeld in 1997 that now has at least dozens of people around the country airing their grievances and staring at undecorated poles. Of course it’s got a new book on the shelves, written by Allen Salkin with a foreword by Jerry Stiller, so thank the heavens someone’s profiting, baby!

(There’s a mildly entertaining VidLit for the book, but beware: my computer froze after tryng to load it several times.)

16 thoughts on “‘Tis The Season To Be Cynical

  1. i coulda sworn i’ve seen just about every Sienfeld episode in the book… but i missed this whole Festivus thing. The website and book are hilarious. I catch a glimpse while i’m at Barnes n Noble before i take a plunge into that new holiday.

    Oh yeah, and about the Maccabees, it turns out that Mel Gibson is NOT doing his next movie on that story after all… it’s now about some ancient Mayan civilization. Its being filmed in Mexico and it will all be in some ancient language. We got spared Mel’s wrath!

  2. Your article hit the nail on the head, Yenta. If that photo is an example of the “menorah” that “chrismukah” celebrants use, it’s as unkosher as the celebration itself.

  3. Gimme a break! The Chrismukkah reindeer menorah that JAmerica.com copy and pasted from my website, together with the Godzilla menorah, Fedora menorah, snowmenorah and others that can be seen in the “Menorah Mish-Mash” slideshow on my site (www.chrismukkah.com) are clearly parody menorahs, intended to be a tongue-in-cheek reaction to the commericialized, tacky “novelty” menorahs being sold by Judaica companies around the world from Toledo to Tel Aviv. Most of these menorahs are Israeli in design and made in China. For a sampling, check out http://www.Menorah.com or do a Google search for “novelty menorah”. You’ll find an Israeli made reindeer menorah (silver plate). Or how about the “high heel shoe” menorah, the “golfing men” menorah, the elephant menorah (are elephants kosher?) or the “M&M” character menorah. I’m sure it won’t be long before somebody markets a Santa Claus menorah.

  4. You’re absolutely right, Ron; tackiness is an equal-opportunity phenomenon. Took your reindeer photo off, sorry…You’re just a man trying to make a buck, I get it. I’m sure you’re a good guy who believes he’s filling a niche.

    Both holidays in this post were popularized by TELEVISION shows, not tradition. Chrismukkah is NOT Jewish, or even half, and exploiting Chanukah’s story and ritual to create a phony holiday to inspire people to buy more useless crap certains leaves you open to criticism.

    It’s a free country and I’m sure there are lots of interfaith families who will buy your products in lieu of teaching true tradition and meaning to their children.

    It seems to me that Chrismukkah is a lazy way of addressing the challenges of a multiple faith home.

  5. Go Yenta. Hey Ron- you don’t by ny chance have an electric shofar that automatically blows out “La Cucaracha”? I’ve been wanting one of those…

  6. Folks, the vidlit at http://www.vidlit.com/festivus/ is more than MILDLY entertaining. It’s hysterical. And I am profiting not from exploiting the holiday, but simply by being a journalist writing about a new subculture, reporting facts — facts that may be hysterically funny and entertaininy, but facts — so that nice people like yourselves can have raw information with which to form ideas and opionions about the world. — Allen Salkin, author of Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us

  7. Mr. Salkin, I’m flattered you chose to comment here since you are an excellent and somewhat famous journalist.
    Presumably, you choose your own subject matter and writing a book about the “hysterically funny” facts of Festivus is probably more profitable than writing about, say, the humanitarian crisis in Sudan.
    And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
    I’m sure it’s a funny book. But sorry, the VidLit just ain’t THAT amusing.

  8. Yo Yenta,

    Please feel free to use any of the images on my website if you like. I really don’t mind and am, in fact, flattered and happy to share.

    To clarify, since it seems some of your readers misunderstood your post, Chrismukkah.com does not sell reindeer menorahs, electric shofars (wish I had thought of that one Paul!) or any other products beyond our greeting cards, a cookbook and one CD that I particularly like – Meshugga Beach Party. The “product” images on our site are intended to be ironic.

    Much like JAmerica, Chrismukkah is a site designed to attract people who have something in common… intermarriage or a partial Jewish heritage. It aims to inspire discussion and create an on-line community. It’s operating expenses are only partially covered by sales of greeting cards and cookbook.

    Honestly, I am probably less into making a “buck” with Chrismukkah than Yoyenta.com or JAmerica.com are. You’ll probably mock me for this, but Chrismukkah has felt like my “mitzvah” these past 2 years. It’s been a “labor of love,” not a business venture, and will likely never see a profit. I suppose that’s the truly lame part of Chrismukkah.com.

    Hey, talk about tacky! Please note that I haven’t yet resorted to placing “cheesy” pay-per-click dating and “find-romance.com” pop-up ads all over my site!

    Finally, I don’t think there are many interfaith couples that feel the need for anyone’s support. The typical intermarried person is self-confident, a free-thinker, open minded and not afraid to go their own way.

    Chrismukkah may seem lame in your eyes, but I’ve received email from thousands of people – Jews, Christians, atheists, agnostics and intermarrieds – saying the site resonates for them. And that’s really what Michell and I hoped to accomplish.

    Finally, yes, the word Chrismukkah was popularized by a trite TV show, however the concept preceeded “the OC” by several decades. I’ll send you photos of 8 year old “me” standing in front of my family “Hanukkah Bush”… decorated by my half Jewish / half Lutheran mother with Santa Claus stockings filled with Chocolate Gelt coins.

  9. i’m not an expert in this interfaith stuff or have ever dealt with it but It would be better, IMHO, to do both seperately and purely as to not “currupt” and do either celebration “half-assed”. Plus the kids get more gifts that way. Just a suggestion… speak amongst yourselves.

  10. Joe,

    If you want to learn more about the origins of the Jewish celebration of Christmas and Hanukkah together, the Jewish Museum of Berlin is currently exhibiting: “Chrismukkah. Stories of Christmas and Hanukkah.” In many ways, http://www.chrismukkah.com was motivated by the horrific experiences of my secular German-Jewish grandmother and mother during the Nazi era.

    Press Release, 11 October 2005

    Press Conference and Opening of the Exhibition “Chrismukkah. Stories of Christmas and Hanukkah”

    All around the world, Christians and Jews celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah in December – with Nuremberg gingerbread or latkes, between tradition, commerce, and family celebration, with a profession of one’s religious beliefs or political message. In the exhibition “Chrismukkah. Stories of Christmas and Hanukkah,” on display at the Jewish Museum Berlin from 27 October 2005, visitors will learn exciting facts about both festivals – from cultural history and kitsch to the curious and the cryptic.

    We cordially invite you to attend the press conference and the opening of the exhibition:

    Press Conference with Preview:
    When: Thursday 27 October 2005 at 11 am* preview from 10 am
    Where:Jewish Museum Berlin
    Auditorium, ground floor of Old Building
    Lindenstr. 9-14
    10969 Berlin
    Speaker: Cilly Kugelmann, program director, Jewish Museum Berlin

    * Please plan sufficient time for the security checks at the entrance to the Jewish Museum Berlin

    When: Thursday 27 October 2005 at 7 pm*
    Where: Jewish Museum Berlin
    Concert Hall, 2nd floor of Old Building
    Entrance free

    7 pm
    Cilly Kugelmann, program director, Jewish Museum Berlin

    Rabbi Joel Berger “O Chanukka, was ist aus Dir geworden!” (Oh Hanukkah, what has become of you!)

    The group “Fön” will serve “deep-fried texts on a bed of festive music”

    The Special Exhibition “Chrismukkah. Stories of Christmas and Hanukkah”
    Candles are lit both at Christmas and Hanukkah to brighten up the dark season, but the historical roots of the two festivals are quite different. Divided into six sections, the exhibition examines the origins of both festivals, the cultural effects the festivals have had upon each other, and how they have developed over the centuries.

    Hanukkah is not among the major festivals in the Jewish calendar. However, the unexpected victory of the Maccabees over a superior army in the year 165 BCE has been remembered since the late 19th century to heighten the feeling of unity among Jews. The Zionist movement attached profo und significance to the festival of light; it interpreted Hanukkah as the festival of self-assertion and the Maccabees’ struggle for independence as a heroic example of the fight for independence.

    Until the end of the 18th century, Christmas was a public church festival. After Chrismas mass, the churchgoers participated in traditional processions and extravagant parties. Only in the Biedermeier era did Christmas become the ultimate bourgeois family festival. The Nazis used Christmas for propaganda purposes and in divided post-war Germany, the “German Christmas” developed in different directions. On the socialist side, the religious significance of the festival dwindled while the West, with its increasing wealth, plunged into the annual December buying frenzy.

    Over 700 objects, photographs, and film clips illustrate how social, political, and economic changes have led to new traditions and how commercialization and secularization have superficially made it possible for the two festivals to approximate today.

    The exhibition tells lots of surprising stories. Or were you aware that “White Christmas,” the most successful Christmas hit of all time, was written by a Jewish composer? Irving Berlin, who had fled the Russian tsarist realm for the USA, anticipated the worldwide success of his song when he played it for the first time in 1940: “It’s not only the best song I’ve ever written but the best song anybody’s ever written.”

    And What is behind “Chrismukkah”?
    A Christmas celebration with a tree, songs, and gifts became a symbol of being a part of German culture for many middle-class Jewish families in the 19th century. Jews celebrated Christmas as a secular “festival of the world around us” without religious meaning, or they transferred Christmas customs to the Hanukkah festival. This mixture was and is referred to as “Chrismukkah.” Those who would like to know more about the “December dilemma” which many Jews face each year will find this in the last room of the exhibition.

    Interactive and a Feast for the Eyes
    Hanukkah is a joyous and social festival at which games, such as the dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, play a major part. And Christmas is a colorful festival with decorations and gifts in abundance. So it’s no surprise that the Jewish Museum’s “Chrismukkah” exhibition is a feast for the senses and has many fun elements.

    An interactive calendar features 24 festive customs: art, kitsch and curios, musical and culinary highlights. The life of a Christmas tree is followed all the way from its beginnings in the petri dish to its environmentally-friendly disposal. Film highlights feature a Latvian latkes competition and a Hanukkah celebration in outer space. Visitors meet professional present-givers and discover what today’s Father Christmas inherited from Mr Winter and the Christ-child.

    When: 28 October 2005 to 29 January 2006
    Opening hours: daily from 10 am to 8 pm, Mondays until 10 pm
    The Museum will be closed on 24 December
    Where: 1st floor of Old Building
    Entranc: 4 euros, reduced rate 2 euros

    A book on the exhibition has been published by the Nicolai Verlag: Weihnukka. Geschichten von Weihnachten und Chanukka (Chrismukkah. Stories of Christmas and Hanukkah), edited by Cilly Kugelmann, 132 pages, four colors throughout with over 80 illustrations, 19.90 euros
    The book will be available at the Jewish Museum Berlin and in bookshops from 27 October.

    Alongside the “Chrismukkah” exhibition, there will be a Chrismukkah market in the Museum courtyard (27.11.05 – 02.01.06) and a diverse program of tours, readings, talks, and music as well as a marionette show for children, about which you will receive separate information.
    For photos and further information please contact
    Eva Söderman / Melanie von Plocki
    Press and Public Relations Dept.
    Jewish Museum Berlin Foundation
    Lindenstr.9-14, 10969 Berlin
    Telefon: +49(0)30-25 99 34 19 / 456
    Telefax: +49(0)30-25 99 34 00

  11. Ron: “A Christmas celebration with a tree, songs, and gifts became a symbol of being a part of German culture for many middle-class Jewish families in the 19th century. Jews celebrated Christmas as a secular “festival of the world around us” without religious meaning, or they transferred Christmas customs to the Hanukkah festival.”

    HELLOOOOO? This is the same Germany where Jews were so assimilated into the “world around them” that Hitler exterminiated two-thirds of the Jewish population without anyone batting an eyelash.
    Does ANYONE find it ironic that the Jewish Museum of Berlin is hosting a Chrismukkah exhibition when there are very few Jews left there to tell the story? The only rabbi speaking titled his lecture “Oy, Chanukah, What has become of you?”
    Oy, indeed. Ron.
    Sure, it’s all in good fun until the genocide starts.

  12. Dear Yenta,

    Jewish history has been a timeline of wandering, reestablishing, and assimilating into different cultures.

    Humor is at the core of Jewish American culture. Perhaps we’ve found it to be the best way to deal with pain and sadness.

    I felt queasy when I first learned that a Chrismukkah exhibit was being hosted in Berlin, even if it was at “The Jewish Museum.” The genesis of this exhibit had nothing to do with “my” Chrismukkah, (nor “the OC’s” Chrismukkah). I didn’t want it to be hijacked by Germans, of all people.

    After thinking about it, I realized how poignant it is for a Jewish Museum in Berlin to be hosting this show. I don’t know much about the museum’s history, but I must assume, given that Daniel Libeskind recently designed it, that the museum is well intentioned as a German-Jewish memorial rather than as propaganda. Clearly there was much rich Jewish history in Germany before Hitler.

    I hope to visit Germany in the spring. My mother, now nearing the end of her life, has been invited by the city of Kiel, the place she grew up, to make peace. We’ve also been invited by the Jewish Museum in Berlin, and I expect that it will be a somber experience similar to visiting the Holocaust museums in Washington and New York.

    Yes, prior to Hitler, many Jews in Germany considered themselves Germans first and Jews second. They were assimilated, educated, often prosperous and respected members of the community. Much like in America today.

    This was the case with my father’s Jewish family. My grandfather was a proud German and a decorated WW1 vet. He was a community leader and founder of an underprivileged Jewish youth organization. Nonetheless, in 1938, on Kristallnacht, he was arrested by the Gestapo, his clothing store destroyed by Hitler Youth, and his family evicted from their home. They were very lucky to escape to Holland and ultimately to America.

    My mother, living in Kiel, was categorized by the Nazi beaurocracy as a “Mischling” and she lived in fear every day of her adolescence. She grew up celebrating Christmas. Her father was from a Lutheran family and her mother from a secular Jewish family… Cohens in fact. My great grandparents were Zionists and left Germany for Palestine in 1931. My grandparents however, decided to stay in Germany, confident the trouble was merely political and would soon pass. My mother and her mother were among the few Jews to survive.

    Today, a religious, cultural and attitudinal cold war are increasingly dividing America. Our government is moving dangerously close to a theocracy. “Eyelashes” all over the world are batting furiously.

    My 78-year-old father was missing and presumed dead in his apartment across the street from the World Trade Center on 9/11. He was lucky, again, and made it out with only minor physical injuries. But he got sick and died not long after, his spirit broken the second time he’d lost his home due to religious hatred and violence.

    Chrismukkah is not “all in good fun.” It honors my parents and my daughter and my relationship with my Protestant wife. Hanukkah nor Christmas are celebrated in our house too, but they do not celebrate the same thing. There is a complex, darker theme, running just below Chrismukkah’s surface. You might call it lame, or misguided, but it’s my way of “never forgetting.” I am proud that Chrismukkah has stirred controversy and has provoked discussion out in the open.

    At it’s best, Chrismukkah proposes, perhaps naively, that during the holidays, purportedly a time of “good will toward man,” the focus should be on what we all have in common, not what tears us apart.

  13. Ron, thank you for sharing your history here. I appreciate the relevance Chrismukkah has in your family, and I understand the service it might provide in bridging cultures.
    However, I still believe it is a disservice to the Jewish people and future generations to distill the Chanukah story as nothing more than another winter holiday. If you want to honor your ancestors, make sure your children know the real tradition that made being Jewish in previous generations so dangerous.
    If the story isn’t passed on, it will be forgotten, and the “mukkah” will have no relevance at all.

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