It's that time of the year we call The Holiday Season, a vast, inclusive, though slightly one-sided, ocean of consumerism stretching from Thanksgiving right on up until the moment Jolly Old Saint Nick comes shimmying down your chimney. It's followed by just one more big blowout sale and New Year's, so frightening many people need a drink just to face it. You see the lights, you hear the music, you watch the commercials on television and you slowly get suckered in. It's all part of the mystique, like mistletoe, peace on earth and sugar plum fairies, images neatly wrapped with pretty bows and placed beneath a dead tree meant to symbolize the birth of hope.
It all started innocently enough in a cave 4,837 years ago, all these scantily clothed people sitting around a campfire, freezing. The pessimist said, “Ugh; winter solstice, the longest, darkest day, and no more football!” The optimist smiled and retorted, “Yes, my bearded beauty, but one day closer to spring frolicking.”
Two seconds later, clubs were flying. The wizened old leader, who'd won his post in a landslide, playing king of the hill, quickly stepped between both parties and started singing “I Saw Momma Kissing Panther Claws.” Peace was restored. The song went over so well that each year after, the scene was re-enacted. Voilá, tradition was born!
Time marched on, and with it civilization. The Jews, who lived in a nice warm climate, didn't want to sing the cave song anymore, so they made up their own, but their singing annoyed people. It had this funny, high pitch, and the lyrics knocked the more commonly held pop ideal of golden calves, false idols to the Jews. This angered the local leaders, who punished them by taking away their Temple.
The Jews were tough, though. They started throwing stones, and in 165 B.C.E. the Maccabees-not to be confused with their rivals, the McCoys-evicted the Syrian-Greeks and reclaimed their Temple, but there was just one small problem. The rededication ceremony had to last for eight days, but they only had enough olive oil in their lantern for one. Oy vay! They lit it anyway, and lo and behold, it went full-term. It was a miracle, from that day forward celebrated as Hanukkah, “The Festival of Light.” That first night in the cave was now eight.
And still time marched on. The year they switched from B.C. to A.D. calendars, Caesar Augustus wanted to do some fancy redistricting, so he ordered a worldwide census. This meant that Joseph had to go home to Bethlehem with his wife Mary and be counted. It was no easy task. Mary was pregnant and had morning sickness, but they set out anyway. One day Jesus started kicking, so Joseph went looking for a motel room, but he couldn't find one. Then Jesus came slipping down the old chimney, and Mary gave birth in a barn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, King Herod got wind that a savior was born, destined to be king of the Jews. Feeling threatened, he decreed all newborns up to the age of 2 should be killed, so Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt until Herod croaked.
Thirty-three years later, when the law finally caught up to him, Jesus Christ-as he was now known-was crucified. Those who knew him vowed revenge by creating a religion to honor him and his name. His faithful disciples packed and took off in all directions, converting aggressively along the way. Their followers bickered for hundreds of years on simple bits of church dogma, decreed the pope infallible, and in the process, grew strong and multiplied.
They came up with their own song, which they sang in Latin to confuse people, and added a new holiday, which they called Christmas. A clever PR firm placed it right after Hanukkah and the winter solstice, but cut back on vacation time, reverting from eight days to one.
Flamed by the sword, Christianity spread like wildfire. There were the customary malcontents along the way who started their own brand of Christianity, but they never strayed far from the original package, for they were a conservative group, and all fearing the same God, they hated like hell to break with tradition.
And that's where we stand today in what's now known as the Western part of the world, more or less. Contrary to popular belief, it's the Christians, once known as the salt of the earth, who now own and run most of it and are still looking to expand, not the Jews. All they have is a little bit of sand, right back in the old neighborhood where they started. Santa rules, though Saturday Night Live did try the Harry Hanukkah thing some years ago, but it never really caught on, and if you mention the winter solstice, most people think you're talking about Stonehenge.
Just look in any store window, and you'll understand. You might see a menorah here or there, an old dinosaur bone or two, but we're just trying to be fair-after all, we tolerate Raiders fans, too, don't we?
Do like I do; don't take chances. Light candles, put up Christmas trees, then build a small fire and dance naked at 5:14 p.m. on Dec. 21. Oh yeah, spend a lot of money too-it's best to please all the gods.