Hanukkah Matata

I’m a night owl. This tends to lead me toward employment that allows for later hours, like when I worked in an indie video that stayed open well after dark. After renting someone their Tinto Brass DVD that they were watching “for the commentary on the decline of the European civilization,” I would follow up the transaction with a friendly “have a good night!” It became habit, and one I couldn’t shake, even during the occasional morning shift. On the phone or in person, I’d end a conversation with “have a good night,” and inevitably, some jackass would eventually correct me. “Night?” he’d say. “You’re a little backward, aren’t you? It’s not even noon yet!” A good laugh had by all at my expense, but fair enough- I mean, how stupid does someone have to be to wish someone a good night when it’s still light out? Clearly, the ridicule was well deserved.

I could never understand why they were so offended. Did they want to have a bad night? Sure night was several hours away, but I was just thinking ahead. It’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

 

Deep thought.

One day, around this time of year, I was walking home past the Jewish Community Centre. There was a pair of gentlemen standing outside, wishing passers-by a happy Hanukkah. It was nice of them, to stand in the cold and offer complete strangers a warm smile. As I passed and they said the same to me, I returned the greeting right back to them, and I genuinely meant it. They asked if I was Jewish, and I told them I wasn’t, but that I hoped they had a lovely holiday. They wished me the same. All in all, it was a decidedly agreeable encounter.

And then, as I walked away, it hit me: I’d just become a casualty of the War on Christmas.

I mean, how dare these people push their heathen holiday on me? Why do they hate Christmas so? Why do they hate joy? Wishing a Christian a happy Hanukkah is almost as offensive as wishing someone a good night during the day!

So you see where I’m going with this.

Today is the final day of Hanukkah (which seemed to come early this year for those of us who don’t follow the Jewish calendar). Christmas is still a couple of weeks away, so we’ve avoided the overlap that sometimes occurs. This would indicate that perhaps we’d be spared the “Holiday Wars” for one year. Which would be a shame, seeing as it’s become tradition.

My message to those who believe that war is being waged on the chronologically questionable birthday of our Lord and Saviour: get over it. There are other faiths. There are other holidays. There are people out there who do not celebrate Christmas. Accept them. Forgive them. Extend to them a hand in friendship. It’s the Christian thing to do.

And for those who don’t celebrate Christmas…

Listen. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to see everyone around you celebrate a joyous holiday and feel left out. It’s unfortunate that our culture is so Christmas-centric that it forgets that there are other faiths out there. But you have to understand, most of us were brought up in Christian households, with Christian families and Christian traditions. When we were kids, Christmas was it, it was the thing, and we weren’t really aware of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus. It’s not because we were willfully ignorant, it’s because we were kids. We didn’t know what mortgages or calculus or fellatio or Belgium were either. As we grow up, we become more culturally aware, but the expression “Merry Christmas” that we’ve heard from loved ones and classic films and greeting cards our whole life is a difficult habit to break. It’s what we know, and while we try to translate that into the multi-cultural world as we know it today, sometimes we slip. It’s not because we’re trying to convert you, or belittle your religion. Heck, most of us don’t even believe in Christ as the Son of God ourselves, and it’s well-known that most “Christmas” traditions are either Pagan in origin or merely winter-based. Sure, there are dickheads out there, the ones who believe in the War on Christmas, who might knowingly say “Merry Christmas” to a Muslim just to make a point or start a fight, but they are the exception. It’s the season for giving, so please, give us the benefit of the doubt.

 

If there really was a war on Christmas, we clearly wouldn't stand a chance.

The way I figure it, it’s cold enough out there for us to try to be warm to each other. Dear readers, I propose a new holiday trend: embrace the traditions of other cultures. Christians, place a menorah on your mantle this year. Jews, put up a Christmas tree. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Satanists, Scientologists, Rastafarians, and Atheists, I put this to you: candles and twinkly lights are pretty, cookies and latkes are delicious, and everybody likes presents, chocolate, money, and chocolate money. Let’s not make each other feel left out but invite each other in. If someone tells me to have a happy Hanukkah, I will not be offended by their failure to accurately gauge my religious stance, but instead feel welcomed into their holiday cheer. There is no reason for petty arguments over which holiday is the “right” one. After all, if we put them all together, it just means that the party will be that much more awesome.

 

Some things we can all agree are awesome.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

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Remembrance Rage

(NOTE: Yes, I realize that I haven’t posted in a while. I have a backlog of posts ready, don’t you worry. They will see the light of day soon enough)

Ouch! I just pricked my finger on my Remembrance Day poppy. Oh well, I’m not complaining. It’s not like anyone’s forcing me to wear it. I could choose not to. It is a free country, after all.

You know, for all my bitching, ranting, and raving, the truth is that I am, in fact, a very blessed person. I have a supportive family, fantastic friends, and a wonderful partner who loves me. I have a fabulous apartment downtown in the greatest city in the greatest country on Earth. And I am free.

A man on the subway was selling poppies. Bright red with a black centre- it’s November 11th, after all, and here in Canada we are patriotically convinced that John McCrae was a great poet. The old man on the subway wore a uniform, decorated and freshly pressed. He stood tall, proud, and gave me the warmest smile I’d seen in a long time. He reminded me of my grandfather, a figure of stoic dignity if ever there was one. My imagination led me to consider that his smile came from watching the people go to and fro, free of tyranny and oppression. The smile of one who knows that the years spent in the heat of battle were worth it. So of course I bought a poppy from him. I mean really, is there any other option?

As it turns out, yes. Yes there is.

The White Poppy has been distributed by the “No More War” movement since 1934. This lovely flower has become a symbol for Peace, while her bloodstained brother glorifies violence. Anyone who can take a break from Call of Duty: Black Ops long enough to turn on the news can tell you that War is Hell, and portraying it in a heroic light only encourages the bloodshed. The White Poppy, we are told, serves as a reminder of the virtues of Peace, and stands in opposition to armed conflict, and the horrors of War.

Of course, most people alive today are too young to really understand what exactly those horrors are. So “remembering” them might require more imagination than actual memory. Okay then, imagine that you, your husband, your father, or your son are drafted into a conflict that isn’t yours, that perhaps you do not even understand. Or maybe you volunteered, because you’re that goddamn brave. But bravery only gets you so far in the trenches, and soon, you are lost, cold, alone, and afraid. You are watching your comrades die, some quickly, some slowly and painfully, some, unable to take atrocity in stride, by their own hand. All is terror, madness, pain, death, and you come home from years of exile broken, if you come home at all. Maybe your body is filled with shrapnel, or you lost your leg to gangrene. Maybe you can’t escape the nightmares. Maybe you defeated an evil foe whose holocaust had to be stopped, or maybe you fought an unjust war, and were spit upon by your own countrymen and forgotten by the government that sent you. Maybe you were just doing your part to make this world a better place. Maybe you were confused and didn’t know what was happening. Hell, maybe you even enjoyed the slaughter. In any case, you stood before the fire, at the gates of Hell, you felt the heat and suffered the burn, and you did not turn away. You stood your ground. And you did it for us.

There are fields of dead. Each body is someone’s husband, father, or son. Each body fertilizes the crop growing above it. Poppies rise from the corpses, stained with their blood, amid the white crosses seemingly spattered by violence, and they remind us. They remind us why you fought, why you suffered, and why you died.

To us, from failing hands, they throw not a sword, but a torch. Let us continue the quarrel, they ask, taking up not arms, but light. The foe is oppression, tyranny, slavery. The foe must be defeated. Let us lead the way through the trail they blazed toward an enlightened future.

The Red Poppy does not glorify violence, but reminds us of its consequences. The money collected from its sales go toward providing for veterans, some of whom are too shattered from their experiences to fully provide for themselves, all of whom deserve nothing less than the knowledge that we haven’t forgotten them.

I have been doing my research, and have yet to discover where the money from the sales of white poppies go. Toward the manufacturing of more white poppies, perhaps? How much can a few buckets of bleach cost? You can even make your own at home- take a red poppy, and erase all colour as vigorously as if you had made a horrible mistake that you’d rather forget. What more appropriate way is there to remember?

I am a liberal pacifist myself- I don’t believe in war. Yet the white poppy offends me. I find it distasteful and disrespectful. I imagine the kindly old veteran on the subway who fought so hard and sacrificed so much, watching a white poppy prance by as a statement that the wearer would rather he hadn’t have bothered.

But don’t get me wrong; I am not against the White Poppy. However mis-guided the movement might be, it is still a non-confrontational protest against war, which is a noble idea. In some places, you might be locked up for such propaganda, but Canada is a free country, and censorship has no place here. If we deny those we disagree with the right to wear the poppy of their choice, or even none at all, then those who sacrificed themselves so valiantly will have done so for nothing.

The White Poppy is a means of expressing an ideal. While I may disagree, I believe in your right to freedom of expression. I only wish I had the courage to defend that right to the death. I’m not sure I do, but I know someone who does. He stands on a subway platform, quiet, proud, peaceful. He sells red poppies, so that we will remember the sacrifice he made so that we may choose not to wear them.

…And Another Thing!

Sometimes shit pisses me off.
I’m not complaining. I’m not lamenting. And I’m certainly not apologizing. I’m simply stating a fact. Because anger is a fact- a fact of life. And it’s one that far too many people are afraid to admit.
What are you afraid of, people? That those who are angry might no longer be complacent? That they might feel empowered by their rage? That they might even try to do something about whatever is angering them?
When I was young, if I experienced (what I perceived to be) an injustice, I was always told to “count to ten.” I’d be reminded about sticks and stones and broken bones, and whatever else it is that adults tell children to shut them up and keep them under control. But I was never asked what was bothering me. Never allowed to express my side. This is, I think, what most parents and teachers do with kids. Who hasn’t heard “shh, shh, don’t be angry, just breathe” when they have been justifiably pissed off? It tells you that no one wants to hear about your problems, so you should just swallow your emotions and put on a happy face so that everyone can believe that everyone gets along.
I am here to call bullshit. I am here to say that we as human beings are entitled to our rage. Anger is natural and you have every right to experience it.
Now, this may sound unsafe if you assume that anger necessarily leads to violence. But it simply isn’t so. Sure, you are entitled to feel angry, but you’re not entitled to hurt people. There can be other, more constructive ways to express anger. The problem is that we never learn them. We never come to understand, to take control, to truly own our anger, so when it boils to the breaking point, we just explode. Our fear of ourselves has kept us from forming a healthy relationship with our wrath, so we’re left with no option but to lash out. If we make an effort to learn and to teach the positive attributes of anger instead of burying it and pretending it doesn’t exist, I’d like to think we’d simply function better as a society.
Whether it be activism for positive change, artistic expression of profound insight, or just pure comedy gold, the uses that enlightened souls have found over the centuries for this immense power that we all possess have been great indeed. Violence is often caused by fear, greed, desperation, and many, many other emotional states besides anger. Anger doesn’t cause wars, at least not alone- you need to stand to gain something by vanquishing your foe, and a healthy dose of xenophobia doesn’t hurt either. Whether you’re out to seize land or oil, or to convert another culture into your way of life, anger simply isn’t the primary motivation to go to war. It is, however, the primary motivation for protesting it.
Yes, people do irresponsible things out of anger. But that isn’t a problem with being angry, it’s a problem with being irresponsible. Anger doesn’t oppress people, but it does make people rise up against oppression. Anger doesn’t censor books, but it does form secret information dissemination societies. Anger doesn’t discriminate, but it sure does hold those who do to justice.
Sometimes shit just pisses me off. And no matter how many times I count to ten, or a hundred, or a million, they just don’t go away. The people of China are still prevented from Googling “Tiananmen Square protests”. American history textbooks still omit the Vietnam War. Women in Iran are still stoned to death. And Constance McMillen still can’t take her girlfriend to prom.
So I’m angry. Yes, I’m angry, okay?
What are you going to do about it?

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