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Finding reason in the season

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I once believed in miracles because my parents told me they were true, but even then I recognized that all miracles were not created equal. The Hanukkah miracle of a light burning for eight days instead of just one paled in comparison to the Pesach miracle, when a God decided to “pass-over” the houses of Jews and kill the firstborn Egyptian male in each home along with the firstborn cattle (Exodus 12:12). Hanukkah, of course, while a major holiday in this country, did not become one for theological reasons. It is celebrated so Jews don’t feel left out when others get Christmas presents. Jewish children traditionally receive a present every day for eight consecutive days. So take that, Christians, I used to say to myself.

Though Hanukkah trumped Christmas at home, not so in my public elementary school. My grandmother would usually begin a conversation with me by asking what I had learned in school, and she seemed delighted by whatever I reported. One exception occurred before Christmas, when I answered her question by singing “Silent Night.” I didn’t know what a “virgin” or a “holy infant” was, but I noticed an unexpected frown on my grandmother’s face. Since my family didn’t want to appear “un-American,” they wouldn’t have thought of complaining about Christianity being promoted in school. But they were especially upset when I learned “Silent Night” in German. After the Holocaust, all things German instilled fear in our family.

Most Christians who are willing to accept the evidence for the Earth revolving around a stationary sun are also willing to acknowledge that a savior born on December 25 is a made-up story. Christmas has its origins in the winter solstice festivals that most ancient civilizations observed. Mithras, a Persian savior-god, had a sizable following in the Roman world and his birth was celebrated on December 25. By appropriating this day for the alleged birth of Jesus, Christians could more easily convert pagans. Because of this pagan origin, some early American colonies prohibited the celebration of Christmas. That might have been the original war on Christmas.
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