Happy Hanukkah – sort of

“If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”


“Hanukkah celebrates the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness.”

Christopher Hitchens

“Hanukkah is…the Feast of Lights.
Instead of one day, we got
Elight CRAZY nights!”

Adam Sandler

Hanukkah, which this year began incredibly early, on Thanksgiving, is one of those holidays that serious humanists could just as easily do without. But because of our Christian friends, it has perhaps a hundred times the importance it deserves. It is the ultimate “coattail” holiday. It thus merits brief consideration here.

Hanukkah actually got a boost from the Christians, first because it happens to be a winter festival of lights. Jewish kids needed something to celebrate in the lands of the diaspora in which Christianity predominates – otherwise, as I can attest from personal experience, Christmas feels like a gigantic party that you are not a part of. South Park’s Kyle spoke eloquently for many of us when he sang of how tough it is to be a Jew at Christmas. But Adam Sandler redeemed our respect with his Hanukkah Song (”don’t smoke marijuanica”), in three versions, yet. Indeed, Adam Sandler is our Hanukkah miracle!

The second boost came when the gift of gelt – i.e., cash, a tradition which still persists – morphed into actual gifts, again in imitation of the Christians. Now Jewish kids could get gifts on eight nights!

Return of the Taliban

Sigh. Hanukkah celebrates, in part, the rededication of the temple in the second century CE by a bunch of Jewish Taliban. It was the restoration of the old-time religion. Once again, the relatively primitive, tribal Jews were in (temporarily victorious) conflict with a secular, rational, cosmopolitan culture, this time the Greeks. (We were the hillbillies of the ancient world, but we caught up quickly once the Enlightenment opened up secular opportunities.)

The eight-night thing comes from a generally Jewish tradition of weeklong seasonal celebrations. The political triumph, then, was grafted upon the already existing Winter Lights Festival, and traditions were added along the way – the dreidel, the eight-night miracle, and many others.

Hanukkah’s OK

Hanukkah is OK, insamuch as I see nothing wrong with celebrating light in midwinter, as long as it is metaphorically taken as manifest in the humanistic virtues. Thus, we can rededicate ourselves to being better human beings and to improving the world (the traditional Jewish ideal of tikkun olam). This includes advancing the cause of reason, opposing the many offenses and excesses (and the tax-free status) of religion. As we near the darkest point of the year, let us resolve that the darkness of religious ignorance go no further, that it begin to yield to the light, starting with this very day.

You might dedicate each of the eight candles to one of the humanistic virtues: love, courage, compassion, tolerance, reason, dignity, generosity, charity, and whatever personal quality one is working on that year.

Happy Hanukkah to one and all. Time is passing way too fast.


Alan M. Perlman has a PhD in linguistics. He is a secular humanist speaker and author — most recently, of An Atheist Reads the Torah: Secular Humanistic Perspectives on the Five Books of Moses. For information, go to

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