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As a kid I was raised as a Jewish Socialist, meaning that I got a double-dose of Christmas guilt. As a Jewish child I was not supposed to get sucked into Christian proselytizing and as a Socialist I was not supposed to get sucked into the "opium of the masses." But I lived only a few miles from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the "Christmas City" and site of one of the world's most spectacular nativity scenes, the Moravian Putz. (That's right, it's called the Putz. The word has radically different connotations in Yiddish and Moravian German.)
Those of you who read my previous blog entry From Solstice to Santa will know that I have become fascinated by the whole history of the holiday celebrated on December 25. This is very timely because of the "Happy Holidays" controversy: many, including me balk at the smarmy bland politically correct greeting ("the festival which dare not speak its name"), whereas others, including blogger Virginia Postrel, are not so bent out of shape about it.
The other issue raised annually for Jews is the use of Hanukkah as a Jewish substitute for Christmas. The two holidays share a few things in common: candles, lights in the darkness, and a theme of redemption.
But Hanukkah is also about oil (vegetable, not petroleum) and regime change in the Middle East (Seleucids, not Baathists). Frankly, I don't really buy the Hanukkah-Christmas connection.
So what's a Jew to do?
It's widely assumed that "yule" is a synonym for Christmas, which is literally, the eucharist service (missa, Latin) for the Anointed (Christos, Greek). But the word, related to "jolly", comes from Old Norse and predates Christmas (see below).
Personally, I like the idea of "Yule." Christians who want to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Yule are free to do so, but those of us who don't want to overlook the pre-Christian roots of the holiday can enjoy the horned gods and white-bearded bearers of merriment. If I were "frumm" or "haredi" (Yiddish and Hebrew respectively for pious Orthodox Jews), of course I would not celebrate a pagan holiday. But I am not, and so I will.
With one exception this year: I will not burn a yule log. Instead I will post a yule blog. And wish everyone a Jolly Yule.—JDL
O.E. geol, geola "Christmas Day, Christmastide," from O.N. jol (pl.), a heathen feast, later taken over by Christianity, of unknown origin. The O.E. (Anglian) cognate giuli was the Anglo-Saxons' name for a two-month midwinter season corresponding to Roman December and January, a time of important feasts but not itself a festival. After conversion to Christianity it narrowed to mean "the 12-day feast of the Nativity" (which began Dec. 25), but was replaced by Christmas by 11c., except in the northeast (areas of Danish settlement), where it remained the usual word. Revived 19c. by writers to mean "the Christmas of 'Merrie England.' " First direct reference to the Yule log is 17c.
c. 1290, Ieneuer, from O.N.Fr. Genever (Fr. Janvier), attested from c.1120 in Anglo-Fr., from L. Januarius (mensis) "(the month) of Janus," to whom the month was sacred as the beginning of the year (see Janus; cf. It. Gennajo, Prov. Genovier, Port. Janeiro). The form was gradually Latinized by c.1400. Replaced O.E. geola se æfterra "Later Yule."
c.1305, from O.Fr. jolif "festive, merry, amorous, pretty" of uncertain origin (cf. It. giulivo "merry, pleasant"), perhaps from O.N. jol "a winter feast" (see yule), or from L. gaudere "to rejoice." Jollification "merrymaking" is from 1809; shortened form jolly led to phrase get (one's) jollies "have fun" (1957). A jolly boat (1727) is probably from Dan. jolle (17c.) or Du. jol (1682), both related to yawl (q.v.); or it may be from M.E. jolywat (1495) "a ship's small boat," of unknown origin.blog comments powered by Disqus Comments (View)
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