Dustup over a mashup

This year, because Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve, good-natured talk of hybrid holidays as well as interfaith goodwill is more noticeable than ever in the United States.

The topic of Chrismukkah (as it has come to be known) is celebrated, criticized, or just gently mocked, as taste, temperament, and conviction dictate. And you thought Thanksgivukkah was confusing (don’t worry: not going to happen again for another 70,000+ years). Did produce some cocktail recipes, though (1, 2). But I digress.

Now there are even ugly Hanukkah sweaters (still sure that multiculturalism is a good thing? or is this cultural appropriation?). The Mazel Tov cocktail (gotta love the name) seems to have passed the Kosher test, but Hanukkah gingerbread houses, not to mention, guides for throwing a full-blown Chrismukkah party, arouse the ire of some. And then there are the really dicey issues–and I don’t mean just Natalie Portman’s Christmas tree: Can a “Hanukkah bush” be a gesture of subversion rather than cultural capitulation (an especially ironic question when celebrating a holiday that is about the very opposite of the latter)?

Convergence or capitulation?

The coincidence of the calendars seems to require mention of this postcard from the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which a colleague sent me about a decade ago.

darwinistisches-xmas
It looks like the perfect mashup Chrismukkah card, and thereby hangs a tale. Indeed, the German Weihnukkah–from Weihnachten (Christmas) and Chanukkah–was the direct ancestor– but it was not intended as a positive thing.

As a 2005 exhibition at the Museum explained, the concept goes back over a century to a time when increasingly assimilated German Jews appropriated Christmas celebrations in their own secular manner. On the one hand, the assimilation was a sign of social acceptance and economic and political integration. On the other hand, it led to a decline in the Jewish population. The intermarriage rate rose from 15 percent (though higher among men than women) at the beginning of the twentieth century to 44 percent on the eve of the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. At most a quarter of the offspring of mixed marriages were raised as Jews. In addition, at the turn of the century, about 1,000 German Jews converted to Christianity every year: to some extent, because of the lure of the dominant culture, to some extent, in an attempt to escape remaining prejudice. In all cases, the traditional Jewish culture did not exercise a compelling hold. The combined result was that the rate of Jews leaving the community exceeded that of natural increase.

The caption on the postcard reads:

“Darwinian: Zionist caricature on assimilation, from the periodical, ‘Schlemiel’ (1904)”

Ironically, of course, it was the assimilated and converted Jews who were most shocked when the Nazis came to power and told them that they no longer counted as German.