Old, yet New. New, yet Old.
A couple of new takes on holiday traditions.
There has always been a dispute over the way the holidays are observed. For hundreds of years the way people approach everything from Thanksgiving to Kwanza has been a contentious matter, especially in a multiethnic, multiracial, and multi-religious society like ours.
The typical ethno-religious breakdowns are one thing—you know, those who are Jewish celebrate Hanukkah, Christians celebrate Christmas, that sort of thing. But even within groups there are strong differences of opinion.
Not all Christians celebrate Christmas on the same day—or in the same month for that matter. Many Orthodox Christian churches, for example, celebrate Christmas on January 7; some Armenian churches on January 19.
Others, I think we can all agree, have less of a historical foothold. Whatever you want to call him—Santa Claus, Old St. Nick, Sinterklaas, Papá Noel, Tim Allen—the mythology surrounding the jolly bearded one is slightly more tenuous than steadfast religious dogma.
Even the words we use to describe this time of year can change with the winds. When the greeting "Merry Christmas" fell victim to political correctness (for better or for worse) it led to a backlash of negative stigma around the more broad "Happy Holidays." Not to mention the endless fiery argument over public displays of everything from nativity scenes to menorahs.
Some potent mix of religious adherence, childhood nostalgia and skyrocketing heating bills puts everyone on edge during the holidays.
One recent effort to alter the way we look at Christmas involves a strong movement away from the commerciality of the season. The "Advent Conspiracy" is an organization that is perturbed about what it sees as an unrecognizable Christmas season.
Its website greets visitors with a ponderous message: "The story of Christ's birth is a story of promise, hope, and a revolutionary love. So, what happened? What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams and shopping lists. And when it's all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take months to pay off and this empty feeling of missed purpose. Is this what we really want out of Christmas? What if Christmas became a world-changing event again? Welcome to Advent Conspiracy."
The movement is driven by four pretty universally agreeable tenets: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All. The site's trademark image is a silhouette of one of the three kings riding a camel to Bethlehem coming face to face with a woman pushing a shopping cart. The message is clear: "It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus."
For Christians the site represents a rare refocusing of priorities. From Black Friday, through the endless swiping of credit cards and up to Christmas Eve, there is rarely a thought about the birthday boy in our national conversation. Some of this is political correctness, as mentioned above. But at least three quarters of this country self-identifies as Christian—you'd think Christ would be a bigger deal around Christmas.
While the gentiles toil with various takes on Christmas, a Jewish a cappella group from Yeshiva University is giving Hanukkah a new spin (of the dreidel—yes, that was totally intended.) The Maccabeats covered Taio Cruz's pop hit "Dynamite" to make it "Candlelight." Where Cruz sings "I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, saying hey-o, baby let's go" the Maccabeats sing "I flip my latkes in the air sometimes, saying hey-o, spin the dreidel."
The goofy video has garnered almost three million YouTube hits and added another classic to the depleted library of Hanukkah hits (Adam Sandler's "The Hanukkah Song" and "The Hanukkah Song Part II" being the other ones).
As important as our traditions are, the way we celebrate will continue to evolve long after we're gone. Whatever your religious beliefs are, a season of giving, love and good times is an undeniably worthy cause. Let's try to open our hearts and minds even half as much as we open our wallets this December.