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Culture

Berlin Museum Celebrates "Chrismukka"

This year Hanukkah and Christmas are celebrated in the same week, and the Jewish Museum is using the occasion to show how the two religious celebrations have evolved -- and even found touching points here and there.

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Celebrated at the same time of year, the two holidays are beginning to mix

The song that greets visitors to the Jewish Museum says a lot about the combination of holiday traditions: Bing Crosby crooning the words to "White Christmas" -- words that were penned by the Jewish composer Irving Berlin.

To do research for the exhibition titled "Weihnukka," mixing Weih n achte n (German for Christmas) and Hanukkah, museum associate Michal Friedlander spent last Christmas in New York where Jews and Christians are often well-versed in both traditions and "the shops make as much of a fuss of Hanukkah as they do of Christmas."

"They decorate their windows in red and blue, red for Christmas and blue for Hanukkah," she said. "We wanted to make use of the very rare occasion that the two festivals fall within the same week this year to show where they come from and how they have changed."

No historic co n n ectio n betwee n holidays

Weihnukka Ausstellung im Jüdischen Museum in Berlin, Bild 2a

Ancient Jewish roots are all that connect Hanukkah and Christmas

Roots in the Jewish history are the only connections Christmas has with Hanukkah -- the eight-day Festival of Lights which begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev.

To those who are strangers to the customs of Hanukkah in Berlin, where the Holocaust reduced a Jewish population of about 190,000 to 10,000 registered with the city's Jewish Community, the exhibition recalls that it celebrates the defeat by the Maccabees of the Syrian Antiochius IV in 165 BC and their recapture of Jerusalem.

The museum explains that every night one more of the eight candles in the menorah, a nine-arm candelabrum, should be lit from the one in the middle and that the prayer spoken at the same time celebrates the defeat of the powerful by the weak.

Moder n holiday mixi n g more visible

Weihnukka Ausstellung im Jüdischen Museum in Berlin

Santa lights the menorah

A portion of the exhibition, which spreads through six halls and contains some 700 objects, deals with how to overcome the so-called "December dilemma" and send out neutral, politically-correct seasonal greetings.

There has been a measure of cultural cross-pollination between the holidays as school Christmas pageants become winter musicals and wishes of "merry Christmas" turn to "happy holidays," Friedlander said.

"It has become quite common for Jewish families to give their children presents over Hanukkah because it is so close to Christmas," she told the AFP news agency.

Products for a n y celebratio n

Weihnukka Ausstellung im Jüdischen Museum in Berlin, Bild 3

New Yorker magazine's "The Night before Hanukkah"

Perhaps as an echo of the commercialization of Christmas, one room at the exhibition is devoted to the wealth of products on sale around the celebrations.

"A real American-type market has developed around Hanukkah," Friedlander said. "Apart from sweets and the menorah which one finds in all different guises, the real trend of the year is a stuffed toy of the warrior Judah Maccabee, which is perhaps becoming the equivalent of Father Christmas for Jewish children."

She said she had noticed that New York's many mixed Jewish-Catholic couples have begun to combine Christmas and Hanukkah traditions.

"One finds Christmas trees decorated with objects normally symbolizing Hanukkah, like small menorahs," he said.

The Weih n ukka exhibitio n ru n s u n til Ja n . 29.

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