USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘hanukah’
Customs
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Collision of Catholicism and Judaism

Original Script: “Well…I always knew that I wanted to raise my children Jewish, but I also did not want to take away their heritage of their father from them as well….so every year, we would celebrate the eight days of Hanukah and Christmas. It was funny…I remember when my children would go to synagogue after the winter break and my kids would tell the other kids about how they celebrated both Christmas and Hanukah that year…and you know kids, they always want presents. So they thought Jay and Ab got twice as many presents every year…but oh boy that was far from the case. We would open one gift every night for Hanukah, usually the presidents were items that would go with another Christmas one…as to give a hint what their presents were…If Hanukah fell on Christmas then we would wrap the kids presents in Hanukah wrapping paper and put them under the Christmas tree…then instead of celebrating the last few nights of Hanukah they would just open all the presents…It was really fun. The house was always decorated in Christmas and Hanukah decorations it was awesome of my children. It is funny, when my children were little they would say we are Jewish and Catholic, when I tried to explain to them that that is not possible…that they were Jewish but celebrated catholic traditions, they would continue to say it. Hahaha, they even sometimes still do even if they are older!”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: While Cheryl is now divorced from her husband is now remarried, her new husband is also Catholic and the tradition of the collision of Christmas and Hanukah still remain the same. Cheryl grew up in a predominately Jewish household in Skokie, Illinois and grew up in a very conservative Jewish family—celebrating all of the Jewish high holidays such as: Yom Kippur, Shabbat, and Passover—as well as attending Synagogue every Sunday. However, Cheryl had gotten married to a Catholic man in her late twenties, which enabled her as well as her husband (who she is now divorced to) to raise their children in a home that celebrated both Hanukah and Christmas. Mark, Cheryl’s ex-husband, grew up in a very Catholic household, attending church every Sunday as well as always attending midnight mass for Christmas. However, even though he stopped attending midnight mass when his children were born, he still instilled the catholic traditions of Christmas in the household.

Context of the Performance: Celebrating Christmas and Hanukah together

Thoughts about the piece: This was a very interesting piece of folklore that I had collected, simply because it brought two very prominent traditions—Christmas and Hanukah—together. It is a very modern take on conservative religious holidays in the combining of two completely separate religions. It is almost as if the two children were the mediators—the peacekeepers, if you—of the two traditions. Where the wintertime specifically was when the two holidays collided.

It is also interesting to note that even though Cheryl had stated that the children celebrated both holidays, sometimes at the same time, they were distinguishable from each other. For example, the wrapping up of the specific Hanukah gifts in Hanukah wrapping paper and the decorations around the house being both Christmas and Hanukah. This comparison brings up the question why there were not specific decorations for multiple wintertime holidays instead of the decorations being segregated into one category (i.e. Hanukah and Christmas). However, it is still an interesting notation of the collision of the two holidays, especially when Cheryl stated that if Hanukah fell on Christmas they would just open up all their remaining Hanukah gifts on Christmas and not celebrate the rest of the eight nights of Hanukah. Furthermore, when Cheryl had stated that most of the kids in the synagogue idea of Christmas and Hanukah celebrating together was foreign to them, it made me think why it was so much more common now in days (many of my friends celebrate both Christmas and Hanukah).

I followed up with Cheryl after this question came to mind, I had found that many of her Jewish friends that she grew up with, are now married to Catholic or Christian men who celebrate Christmas, the traditions of that she described in the interview are, in fact, conducted the same way. To me, this seems like a transformation, or even evolutionism, of the separate entities of religion and the separate groups that follow with the specific religion. In this case, this cohabitation of Christmas and Hanukah create another group of people that celebrate both—it is a collision of folk groups into one folk group.

Childhood
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Holidays
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Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Great Han

Every year at hanukah my mother tells the story of hanukah and afterward, when the historical story is done, she tells this story which was told to her by my grandfather:

Item:  So everyone knows about Santa Claus coming down and bringing presents to the Christian children but Santa has a best friend too.  His best friend is named the Great Han.  Every year at hanukah the Great Han sets out in his giant flying menorah with each candlestick filled with presents for the little children.  The Great Han flies around delivering all the presents to the good jewish children.  And you know, when Christian children are bad they get coal, well, the when the Jewish children are bad they get a cow dropped on them.  So every year at Hanukah tim all the little Jewish children go outside and hold hands and dance in a circle around the fire hydrants singing this song.  The lyrics go:

Han Han Han We’re waiting for you now

Han Han Han Please don’t drop a cow

At this point my mom would have me and the friends my brother and I had invited preform the dance.  We’d all hold hands and dance around in a circle singing the song.

This tradition was passed down from my mom from her father.  I believe he made it up.  I have no memory of her preforming it before he died, however.  It only began to show up as a tradition when I was around 11 but we do it every year.  For my mother it symbolizes her connection to her father and for us it was a symbol of community between our family and friends.  The tradition is so silly and lighthearted that it serves as a celebration of happiness more than a tradition of religious significance.  There is an acceptance that the Great Han does not exist and will not drop a cow on you, so there is no reason to be scared.

This tradition was so important to my family that when I went to college my mom insisted that I be skyped in for the telling of the Great Han story.

There is religious significance in it, however, in what it takes from christian folklore of Santa Claus.  Both are male figures who ride on flying objects and bestow gifts to the good children and punishment to the bad children.  It shows an insecurity among the jewish community to equalize their holiday with the much more popular christian holiday by creating folklore around Hanukah.

 

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