A hybrid holiday grows in Germany [pg. 4]

Kosher gluhwein and latkes coexist at Berlin's Chrismukkah market.

By CATARINA SPECHT
December 25, 2005 00:58
3 minute read.

 
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Increasing numbers of Jewish families worldwide are elevating the Festival of Lights to new importance by decorating Hanukka bushes, sending 'Seasons Greetings' cards, and most importantly, giving presents to their families over a period of eight days. To illustrate this trend, the Jewish Museum of Berlin is currently displaying an exhibit detailing the origins of the meshing of Christmas and Hanukka, entitled "Chrismukkah - Stories of Christmas and Chanukah." Museum officials said they know many people see any combining of the two holidays as an insult to their own traditions and a diluting of any real meaning for celebrating either of them. The officials said that the exhibit is not meant to promote this type of hybrid holiday, but only to illustrate the phenomenon and to educate about the meaning of both holidays. In six separate rooms, the museum exhibits artifacts and craftwork that explain the origins and history of the winter holidays, illustrating the similarities and differences between the Jewish and Christian traditions. This year, Christmas falls on the same day as the first night of Hanukka. Although this synchronous event occurs occasionally, some Chrismukkah observers revel in the special significance of both holidays starting on the same night. Both holidays are characterized by a large number of customs and rituals, but their original meaning has often been forgotten. The traditional German fruitcake, Stollen, for instance, is baked in a ceramic dish, whose shape is a reference to the infant Jesus in his cradle. There are three rooms each explaining the origins of Hanukka, Christmas and Chrismukkah. The exhibit also presents a new trend among Jews who adorn trees with Stars of David. German children are shown playing with dreidels (spinning tops) prior to unwrapping their Christmas presents. Apart from presenting the different customs of the two holiday traditions, the Berlin exhibit gives answers to questions about the right way to light Hanukka candles or when to open the Christmas presents. "It is the first exhibition going into this much depth, and there has been a tremendous response," Berlin Jewish Museum curator Michal Friedlaender told The Jerusalem Post. On weekdays the exhibit attracts up to 800 visitors, with that number rising to 1,300 on weekends, Friedlaender said. Combining the popular German custom of outdoor Christmas markets with Hanukka traditions, the exhibition is accompanied by a Chrismukkah market, a unique 12-stall market outside the museum on Lindenstrasse, in the city's center. Museum-goers can be seen sipping kosher Gluhwein (hot, red wine infused with cinnamon spice) and enjoying latkes (potato pancakes) outside the museum. The event does not only attract Christians and Jews but members of Berlin's large Muslim population as well, Friedlaender said. According to figures published by the German embassy in Washington, Germany is home to the third largest number of Jews and the fastest growing Jewish population in Europe. There are currently more than 105,000 members of the Jewish community living in Germany - although this estimate does not include the many Jews not affiliated with the country's main Jewish organization, the Central Council of Jews. According to the Council, Germany's Jews are scattered in 83 different communities. Many of Germany's Jews come from the former Soviet Union.

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