Hanukkah … and Happy Holidays

I would suggest that anyone with a center-left disposition read The Point of It All, an anthology of conservative Washington Post Columnist Charles Krauthammer’s works that he assembled prior to his death from cancer at age 68 in 2018. Until I read the collection, most of my exposure to Mr. Krauthammer was as a Fox News commentator, and in that venue he had seemed to me too doctrinaire in his criticism of liberal positions; in reading his compilation, I came to recognize how brilliant and eloquent he was.

The 2019 days of Hanukkah observance began yesterday. In December, 2004, Mr. Krauthammer, Jewish, raised in an Orthodox Jewish household, wrote a column entitled, “Just Leave Christmas Alone.” In that piece, he stated, in part, as follows:

“… I’ve got nothing against Hanukkah, although I am constantly amused – and gratified – by how American culture has gone out of its way to inflate the importance of Hanukkah, easily the least important of Judaism’s seven holidays, into a giant event replete with cards, presents and public commemorations as a creative way to give Jews their Christmas equivalent.

Some Americans get angry at parents who want to ban carols because they tremble that their kids might feel ‘different’ and ‘uncomfortable’ should they, God forbid, hear Christian music sung at their school. I feel pity. What kind of fragile religious identity have they bequeathed their children that it should be threatened by exposure to carols?

I’m struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas crèche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public.

To insist that the overwhelming majority of this country stifle its religious impulses in public so that minorities can feel ‘comfortable’ not only understandably enrages the majority but commits two sins. The first is profound ungenerosity toward a majority of fellow citizens who have shown such generosity of spirit toward minority religions.

The second is the sin of incomprehension – a failure to appreciate the uniqueness of the communal American religious experience …. [T]he United States does not merely allow minority religions to exist at its sufferance. It celebrates and welcomes and honors them.”

That said, in his last months, Mr. Krauthammer became sharply critical of President Trump, writing in July, 2017:

“[Mr. Trump’s comparisons between the activities of the United States and a Vladimir Putin-led Russia] was “[m]oral equivalence so shocking, emanating from the elected leader of the United States, [that it should] … not … be ignored ….

The demagoguery of 2016 did carry the day. … That the traditional left-right political divide of the last two centuries is increasingly being surpassed by the nationalist-globalist and authoritarian-democratic divide is disturbing and potentially ominous.”

Given what has transpired in the two and half years since he wrote the quoted passages regarding Mr. Trump, I suspect that Mr. Krauthammer would understand why I say: I agree that the politically correct should quit hyperventilating about public celebrations of Christmas. At the same time, the American “generosity of spirit toward minority religions” of which he wrote in 2004 seems to be both explicitly and impliedly under greater siege now than at any previous point in either his or my lifetime. Therefore, while he fittingly concluded his long-ago column about Hanukkah with the words, “Merry Christmas. To All.”, I — as a practicing (although manifestly flawed) Roman Catholic – today find myself most comfortable wishing my fellow citizens … Happy Holidays.

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