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Page 18 THE VILLADOM TIMES III • December 24, 2008
Christmas lights and
the light of Christmas
Considering the gloom and doom all around us, it is
comforting to see the Christmas lights all over and realize
that most people have decided to make the best of things.
My wife returned from a brief shopping trip on foot
– trading one kind of energy for another, as it were, and
reported about what you would expect from some of the
friendly local merchants we have patronized for the past
30 years. In one store, she saw something heartening:
three men she identiﬁed as young fathers were eagerly
learning how to be cashiers. She assumed they had been
down-sized and were taking up the sort of honest work
they would not have considered when the economy was
booming so they could go on supporting their families.
She saw this as strong and honorable on their part. I
agree. On lawns all over Northwest Bergen County, in front
of the churches, and even in front of some municipal
buildings we see the Nativity represented by a mother, a
father, and a child.
Some years ago, some people wanted to put a stop to
that. A number of towns knuckled under and removed
their Nativity scenes under the pressure of the American
Civil Liberties Union – an organization, be it noted, that
once dumped Ridgewood Holocaust rescuer Varian Fry
from a much-needed seat on the ACLU Board of Direc-
tors because Fry was anti-communist. Fry is remembered
for having risked his neck for being anti-Nazi.
Wyckoff also took a risk. The members of the Wyckoff
Township Committee sat down, weighed their chances,
weighed their consciences, and let the ACLU take them
to court. The judge ruled that as long as the township was
willing to display a menorah and some secular Christmas
symbols, the Nativity scene could stay.
Wyckoff and America won twice. People who are too
wrapped up in sports or politics may not realize it, but
the menorah is an important part of the Christmas story
twice. In 146 BC, a tyrant descended from one of Alexander
the Great’s generals attempted to stamp out Judaism by
brutal and blasphemous methods. Jews who refused to
pollute themselves and deny their own beliefs were tor-
tured and killed as the tyrant attempted to turn the ofﬁcial
religion into a cult with himself as the center of worship.
The blasphemy and the insanity involved were unac-
ceptable to religious Jews. They fought back against great
odds, and when they defeated the tyrant they found that
his troops had polluted the Temple at Jerusalem. The
menorah is said to have miraculously burned while the
temple was ritually cleansed and through the ceremo-
nies of dedication. This event was not just a great victory
for the Jews. It was a great victory for the entire human
race. A blasphemous cult founded by a maniac had been
defeated by people who believed in one God whose laws
applied equally to everyone, beggar and king alike.
Had the revolt that led to Chanukah failed, the New
Testament would not be as we know it today, because
the Holy Family and the Apostles and Disciples were all
observant Jews who followed the laws that were restored.
The menorah and the Nativity scene are not contradictory,
David Bolger and his son JT were recently kind enough
to send me a computer image of the restored painting of
Jesus and the elders, which was once displayed at the Pease
Library. I had my ﬁrst look at the painting in perhaps 20
years, and my memories of it were conﬁrmed. What I saw
when I looked was what one should always see: mutual
respect. We should preserve that respect.
Another importance of the menorah has to do with
what has now become a primary secular symbol: the
Christmas tree. This was not always so. Research traced
the original of the display of a lighted tree inside a church
to the German Rhineland, an area that had been Roman in
ancient times, and where Jews and other settlers had lived
in the fortiﬁed cities and the market towns of what was a
sort of permanent frontier. The ﬁrst example of a lighted
pyramid, shaped like a tree, looks almost like a menorah.
This may not be a coincidence.
The menorah is complementary to the Christmas story,
and so is another monotheistic religion, the belief of the
Persians in one God and a strict dichotomy between good
and evil. The Persians take a beating in European history
because they fought the Greeks, seen as the exclusive
progenitors of Western culture by professors and other
people who like things in neat little boxes and ignore the
religious and legalistic inﬂuence of Judaism, the day-to-
day importance of Germanic tribal custom, and Celtic
and Chinese technology. All these groups contributed
to European civilization while the Persians, stalled at
Thermopylae and defeated at Salamis, remained outside
Europe, though they are an Indo-European people. They
were also the only people in history other than the Ger-
manic tribes who shared a border with the Roman Empire
and were not destroyed or assimilated.
Nativity scenes often feature “the three kings” – one
blond, one black, one possibly Arab – offering gifts to
the Holy Family. The gift-bearers mentioned in the New
Testament, however, were not kings but magi – wise men,
possibly astrologers – who followed the Star of Bethlehem
because they were told the star would lead them to the
King of the Jews.
Astrology was widely practiced in the Kingdom Baby-
lon, where the Jews had once been sequestered and where
some possibly remained, and in the succeeding Persian
Empire. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler, also
an astrologer, discovered at the time of the Nativity – the
autumn of 4 BC, probably in September rather than
December – a constellation of three planets, rather than
stars, would have converged and been visible from Persia
and appearing over Judea. Jupiter was the planet of the
king, Venus the planet of birth, and Saturn the planet of
the Jews in Persian astrology. The message of this constel-
lation, brighter than any individual star, was that the King
of the Jews would be born.
The idea that the Christmas story is comprised of many
elements is not a new one. People in ancient times would
have understood clearly that the members of the Holy
Family were observant Jews – this is absolutely explicit
in the New Testament – and that people outside Judaism
also knew of the prophecies concerning a change in the
world order, mentioned in Roman writers of the next cen-
tury long before Christianity had become an accepted and
later an ofﬁcial religion.
This was not a made-up story like the Right Jolly Old
Elf who comes down the chimney to bring good little girls
and boys whatever they want. Keep in mind that the chim-
ney may be stopped up this year. A lot of people, particu-
larly the younger people who moved here for the schools,
may ﬁnd themselves stuck in houses they cannot afford
and cannot sell, except at a loss.
Our sympathies should go out to these people – par-
ticularly to those who did not vent against older people or
childless people who questioned why they should have to
keep paying school taxes for a standard of education they
never expected for themselves and do not need now. The
idea that many people stay here for decades after their
kids have grown up, or if they did not have kids to begin
with, simply because the towns and most of the people are
so great, is a tough sell to people whose focus is getting
ahead and getting out.
A lot of people used to turn every holiday into an
explosion of spending to show how well they had done. I
think we will see less of that than in any year in the recent
past, not only because people cannot afford it, but because
a look at the neighbors may convince them that it is not in
the world’s best taste. I add that I hope people will spend
whatever they can with local merchants who make the
towns of Northwest Bergen County as convenient as they
are – and at holiday time, as beautiful as they are.
What I hope we will see more of this year is a reﬂection
that the values of Christmas and Chanukah teach people
what they need to remember when the anesthetic of a
bullish stock market and big salaries for do-nothing jobs
wears off. There are some things you do not do to others,
and there are some things that you do not accept: attacks
on religious and family values from people with their own
agendas being a prime example. But if you learn to respect
and tolerate, and even appreciate, other people who pres-
ent no threat instead of smirking and waiting to settle up
at the ﬁrst opportunity, the economic slump, while not
enjoyable, will probably prove survivable. One thing is
certain – it will deﬁnitely prove educational.
Mystery writer to speak
Mystery author Edward J. Rand will address the Ho-
Ho-Kus Seniors on Jan. 27. Rand began writing at age
65 after he retired. His ﬁrst book, “Say Goodbye,” was
an international award winner for ﬁrst mystery/suspense
book. “Perfect Cover” followed and his third and fourth
books are now ready for publication.
Ho-Ho-Kus Seniors will resume meeting on Jan. l3. The
seniors meet the second and fourth Tuesdays in the Educa-
tion Center of the Hermitage. Coffee, tea, and dessert are
served at noon, and programs begin at 1 p.m. Residents and
former residents age 55 and over are welcome to attend.
For program information, contact Joan at (201) 444-4896.
For trip information, contact Sue at (201) 444-7235.
Christmas at Saint Barholomew’s Church
Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Ho-Ho-Kus will begin
its Christmas celebration with a festive service at 4 p.m. on
Christmas Eve. The Sunday school children will present a
special program, “The Christmas Shepherd,” written and
directed by Ho-Ho-Kus resident Dean Laterra.
A late-night celebration will begin at 11 p.m. on Christ-
mas Eve and another Holy Eucharist service will take place
at 9 a.m. on Christmas Day. All are welcome to attend
these services, which take place in the church building that
began its existence in 1871 as a one-room schoolhouse.
Saint Bartholomew’s Church is located at 70 Sheridan
Avenue in Ho-Ho-Kus. Ohone (201) 444-5025.
Library announces closings
The Worth-Pinkham Memorial Library, 91 Warren
Avenue in Ho-Ho-Kus, will be closed from 12:30 p.m. on
Dec. 24 through 10 a.m. Jan. 5, 2009. During this time,
new ﬂoors will be installed in two rooms.
While the library is closed, books and other items may
be returned to other area libraries in the BCCLS system.
New card registration will be available during this time
at the Waldwick Public Library, 19 East Prospect Street,
Waldwick. Contact the Waldwick Library at (201) 652-
5104. Be sure to bring proper identiﬁcation to sign up for a
new library card.
Christmas worship services announced
The Community Church of Ho-Ho-Kus will hold ser-
vices on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, at 5:30 and 10 p.m. The
5:30 p.m. service is the Family Worship and will include
musical presentations by the youth choirs and a traditional
manger scene. The Christmas Eve Candlelight Service will
be held at 10 p.m. The Community Church of Ho-Ho-Kus
is located at 400 Warren Avenue. Call (201) 445-6310.
VFW welcomes new members
The Ho-Ho-Kus VFW, which serves Ho-Ho-Kus and
Ridgewood, welcomes new members. The group meets on
the second Wednesday of every month at 7:30 p.m. at the
Post Home, 620 Cliff Street, Ho-Ho-Kus. For additional
information, call (201) 445-1121.