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From The Chaplain's Desk
From the Chaplainís Desk: Jewish Background of Christmas

By Charles Dimmick, CT State Grange Chaplain

  DECEMBER 6, 2022 --

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

I need to be very careful in this article to not offend anyone. Our Grange membership is mostly of Christian background, but we also have both Jewish and Muslim grangers, and we are all “one big family”. My thesis is that without Judaism we would never have had Christmas. For instance, if you have ever listened to Handel’s “Messiah” you would soon realize that two- thirds of the entire libretto is based on Old Testament passages, thirty different Old Testament quotes. For over a thousand years before Jesus was born the Jewish people were expecting a Messiah. It is against this background that we had our first Christmas. It could not have happened anywhere else in the world except in Israel and in the context of an observant Jewish family.

Despite these Jewish origins, for hundreds of years Christmas was a day of misery and terror for Jewish people. From the high Middle Ages through the end of the 19th century, Antisemitism was rampant through much  of  Europe,  and   reached its peak fervor in the Christmas season. Somehow people who called themselves Christian totally missed the message  of “Peace on Earth to men of good will”.

Today,  thankfully,   especially in this country, much of this has changed. Except for  a  few,  most of us have come to realize that Christmas is a time of reconciliation with all humankind, even for those of us who are not Christian. From a cultural standpoint there has been a gradual  merging  of  traditions. A Pew survey shows that roughly one-third of Jewish families admit to putting up a Christmas tree. And Jews have contributed heavily to certain secular Christmas traditions, including such songs as “Rockin’ round the Christmas Tree” and “White Christmas”. In turn, many Christians, including myself, have been known to participate enthusiastically in Hanukkah parties.

A closing thought: while Christmas has a very special meaning to Christians, there is a universal theme behind the season which applies to all mankind, no matter what their faith  tradition is. God’s wish is that everyone, everywhere, may live in peace and brotherhood, with good will to all. “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for Brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).



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