Reasons for the Season

Hanukology:

It was basically an argument between two points of view that mixed abstractions and interests (as always), but (also as always) with variations and fluctuations, mind-changes and occasional betrayals. To simplify somewhat, one side, those who later (in Hasmonean times, see below) became known as Saducees, were religious conservatives but pro-Hellenist cultural liberals; the proto-Pharisees were religious innovators but anti-Hellenist cultural conservatives. Before the events that Hanukah is all about happened, the tendency that later became identified as Pharisaic held the High Priesthood and the upper hand in the debate; but a revolt displaced them before they regained control. Amid that revolt, and largely because of it, Hanukah happened.

Why Christmas Matters:

While Jesus is growing inside Mary, she becomes suddenly inspired and belts out a remarkable song — a radical declaration of protest against the wealthy. She sings, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;” and “God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

The Moral World of Dreidel:

You can, if you want, always push things to your advantage: Always contribute the smallest coins you can, always withdraw the biggest coins you can, insist on using what seems to be the “best” dreidel, always argue for rule-interpretations in your favor, eat your big coins and use that as a further excuse to only contribute little ones, etc. You could do all this without ever once breaking the rules, and you’d probably end up with the most chocolate as a result.

But here’s the brilliant part: The chocolate isn’t very good. […]

Dreidel is a practical lesson in discovering the value of fairness both to oneself and others, in a context where proper interpretation of the rules is unclear, and where there are norm violations that aren’t rule violations, and where both norms and rules are negotiable, varying from occasion to occasion — just like life itself, but with only mediocre chocolate at stake.

Fooey to the World: Festivus is Come:

Festivus, with classic rituals like familial gatherings, totemic-but-mysterious objects and respect for ancestors, slouched forth from this milieu. “In the background was Durkheim’s ‘Elementary Forms of Religious Life,’ ” Mr. O’Keefe recalled, “saying that religion is the unconscious projection of the group. And then the American philosopher Josiah Royce: religion is the worship of the beloved community.”

The hygge conspiracy:

To Danes, nothing could be less political than hygge – since talking about controversial subjects is by definition not hygge – and yet it is clear that the concept lends itself to political use. Davidsen-Nielsen and Jensen told me that the prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, was hyggelig – the kind of guy you could imagine having a beer with. “He’s folksy and informal. He’s one of the guys. And he gets away with murder – almost,” said Davidsen-Nielsen. “Hygge is a useful strategy for disguising power. Politically, you can cloak quite aggressive or radical acts with an impression of hygge. Hygge says, let’s forget about everything. Let’s block out the world and have some candy.”

Second Opinions