Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Colonial Hanukkah

As we have discussed in previous postings, colonial society gave little attention to the celebration of Christmas. For various reasons, Christmas was seen in a very different light than it is today. It was not celebrated by the vast majority of Americans, but instead was often seen as a pagan holiday.

Early colonial America was not exclusively the domain of Christians. We know that literally thousands of immigrants from Europe carried a vast assortment of religious practices with them to the New World. One group that is often forgotten are the colonial Jews. Though far from a majority, the Jewish population was spread throughout colonial New England. What is most remarkable about the Jewish population was their devotion to the ideals of the American Revolution. Many of them embraced John Winthrop's preaching that America was to be "a city on a hill." For them, America's quest for independence was reminiscent of David's quest to establish Jerusalem.

A decent number of Jewish soldiers fought in the revolution with the Continental Army. In fact, rumor has it that General George Washington first learned of Hanukkah while at Valley Forge. The rumor states that General Washington was intrigued by a private's odd looking candlestick. Upon questioning the private, Washington learned of the Jewish holiday known as Hanukkah. Washington is said to have been so impressed that he later paid this same private a visit after the war.

The American Revolution also brought new meaning to the celebration of Hanukkah. After all, Hanukkah reminded the Jews of the Maccabean revolt, and of the rededication of the Jewish temple. The revolutionary revolt seemed to fit nicely into the Hanukkah celebration, and the American cause for independence became a passionate desire and battle cry for many Jewish Americans.

***On a personal note, may you all have a wonderful and safe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. I will be leaving town for a few days to celebrate with my family but I look forward to an exciting 2008, not to mention many more postings on the greatest period in all of history...THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION!!! A special thanks to all the contributors of this blog (Lindsey Shuman, Brian Tubbs, Steve Becknall,David Mabry, and "Uncle" Fred) for all you contribute. I look forward to seeing you (and your most excellent postings) next year!***


Lindsey Shuman said...

That's interesting! I never thought about Hanukkah during the Revolution, but it makes sense.

Have a wonderful holiday week! I too look forward to 2008 and all the postings to come.

Steve Becknall said...

All I can say is thank goodness that the holidays are over!