Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Friday, December 23, 2011

Santa Claus and Hanukkah Harry

Last night I stopped in to check on my mother's house which has stood empty since her death.  My mother's house is the same house where I grew up.  It is in a post war suburban plan of well built albeit cookie cutter houses that were built in 1954.  These houses appealed to the industrial middle class vets who bought a brand new house with a VA loans.  Of the 32 houses on my mother's street, there are only three remaining original pilgrims who moved there in November of 1954.  My mother was the fourth until her death in 2009.  I suppose you could call me the 4th as the house will soon be mine when I complete the estate (which generally requires an adult--a status that I have seemed to flee since I retired), although I can hardly be considered one of the originals as I have lived my entire adult life elsewhere.  I guess I could stake a claim on grass cutting.  I have cut the grass at that place since I was 10, except for my years in the military.  

Anyhow...I noticed one of the three originals had a menorah in her front window. Judging from the Christmas lights, she is the only Jewish person left on the street. She has to be in her late 80s possibly pushing 90.  It was the first time I have seen a menorah in a very a long time and it reminded of when I was a kid back in the 50s.  The neighborhood then was about half Jewish.  It made for an interesting situation during the winter Holidays. 

Sextant believes in Santa!  Nany!  Nany!
The Jewish kids all made fun of us about Santa Claus which put us in an untenable position. Yeah, they were probably right, there probably was no Santa, but who can afford to take that chance. If you don't believe he may not come.  Public statements of disbelief were dangerous.  Hey the guy (if he exists) keeps a naughty and nice list.  Going around saying you didn't believe in Santa while secretly crossing your finger in your mittens was probably not going to aid your cause in getting that cool Schwinn bike or that Red Rider BB gun. They had us over a barrel, but we retaliated with Hanukkah Harry! What? Indeed Hanukkah Harry!

Hanukkah doesn't start on a particular day in the Gregorian calendar like Christmas does.  Here is a brief description of Hanukkah from Wikipedia:

"Hanukkah (Hebrewחֲנֻכָּה‎, Tiberian: Ḥănukkāh, usually spelled חנוכה pronounced [χanuˈka] in Modern Hebrew, also romanized as ChanukahChanukkah, or Chanuka), also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of theMaccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.
The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah orHanukiah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The typical Menorah consists of eight branches with an additional raised branch. The extra light is called a shamash (Hebrew: שמש, "attendant" or "sexton")[1] and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The purpose of theshamash is to have a light available for use, as using the Hanukkah lights themselves is forbidden."

Specifically, the menorah commemorates the miracle of one day's supply of oil burning for eight days, again from Wikipedia:

"Hanukkah is described in the Talmud. The Gemara, in tractate Shabbat 21, focuses on Shabbat candles and moves to Hanukkah candles and says that after the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. They found only a single container that was still sealed by the High Priest, with enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for a single day. They used this, yet it burned for eight days (the time it took to have new oil pressed and made ready)."

With the flexibility of Hanukkah on the calendar, the Jewish kids usually had their new bikes and gifts that they received from their parents (rather than a mythical being) several weeks before Christmas.  This of course engendered envy in us Christian kids who had to wait for the last week of December.   "Well wait till you see what Santa brings us in a couple weeks. Ha!" So then that starts it "There is no Santa, you stupid babies. Sextant & Billy believes in Santa!"  "Don't stand too close to the fire place, you might get hit by Santa's butt."  "I bet you leave cookies for Santa, Sextant you big baby!"   "Santa, Santa, and Rudolf the red nosed reindeer.  Ha Ha Ha." 

Well they kind of had us.  You are really on dangerous territory saying anything bad about Santa, but really how many of us ever had seen Santa?  So the taunting went on and suddenly Billy then pipes up "Well yeah what about Hanukkah Harry?" I looked at Billy in disbelief! Who the hell is Hanukkah Harry? So then it starts back and forth they are screaming Santa Clause at us and we were screaming Hanukka Harry at them. "Santa eats boogers!" "Yeah well Hanukkah Harry leaves borscht farts!" (One kid was always gassy and he blamed it on having to eat borscht.)  Somehow we got away with this artifice.  I mean Hanukkah Harry, c'mon who ever heard of Hanukkah Harry?  It was something Billy invented on the spot to retaliate with and yet it worked!  I think the reason it worked was that these things were just mock battles of kids having a good time teasing each other and had nothing to do with reality or a search for the truth.  Actually it gave us some power to retaliate and kept the teasing fest going with some sense of equal competition.  Otherwise the Jewish kids were right.  We believed in something that was probably BS, because we were afraid not to believe in it.  So even though Hanukkah Harry was a pure fabrication on Billy's part it lent to everyone's enjoyment of these teasing fests. No body really got mad and there were enough big kids on both sides that the thing could have been reduced to a blood fest but it never did. It was just teasing back and forth. 

Finally our big day came, and I used to kind of feel sorry for the Jewish kids then. Their holiday had come and went and we had this cornucopia of new presents. Well we all made out like bandits, Jewish and Christian.  The 50s were a magical time to be a kid.  I still have trouble believing that Hanukkah Harry flew, but like I say nothing was based on fact, it was a bunch of kids, different in some manner, but basically the same having a hell of good time making fun of each other.  It is a shame that the adults in the world have to take their religious differences so seriously.  We could have taught them some thing about living in peace and genuinely liking each other for being kids in the neighborhood.  Not Jewish, or Catholic, or Protestant, just kids that were out to have a hell of good time with each other. 

EDIT 12-30-2011:  I am going to find Billy and take NBC to court on copyright infringement.  In December of 1989, Saturday Night Live ran an episode The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Christmas.   Billy's invention Hanukkah Harry preceded this episode by at least 32 years.  As being a co-founder of the concept of Hanukkah Harry, I believe that NBC should provide a huge cash settlement for stealing our concept without our knowledge and permission.  It is my firm belief that NBC sought to avoid paying a royalty fee to Billy and I.  They profited from the improper use of intellectual property that belongs to we the plaintiffs in this upcoming suit. 
The Lifted Logo

This is not the first time NBC has been sued over copyright infringement.  In 1976 a PBS affiliate in Nebraska sued NBC for using its logo.  NBC settled out of court by bestowing the affiliate with equipment and cash worth $900,000.  Billy and I will settle for a similar payment and transfer the copyright of Hanukkah Harry to NBC.

You can read the episode transcript here:

Regarding NBC previous copyright infringement with the logo:

Image Credits:



NBC Logo:


  1. You really had me at Hanukkah Harry! My Jewish family provided no instruction in the religion, although we were kept home on the High Holy Days but didn't attend services. We celebrated Christmas. So it was entirely plausible that there really was a Hanukkah Harry whom I never heard of. It's a very funny story, and I couldn't agree more about how unimportant ethnic differences are. What a dull world this would be if everyone was exactly the same.

    Merry Christmas, Sextant! And try not to get hit by Santa's butt.

  2. Well there you have it the best of both worlds. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Hearts. As I said to Jo, Season's Greetings! I hope against hope that things that things will improve for you in the New Year. May God bless you.

  3. Merry Christmas, Sextant, from a girl who could have been one of your little Jewish friends back in the 50s. But I bet you didn't play with girls in those days.

    Anyway, I have my own take on Hanukkah. Seems to me that oil burning for eight days instead of one is a pretty lame miracle. Big deal. The real big deal about the Hanukkah story, if you ask me, is that it was the first time in recorded history that an oppressed people fought for religious freedom and won. We Jews are really stubborn. Many of my ancestors preferred death to giving up their one God. They could have gone along with the crowd and just pretended to worship Zeus and his pantheon, not to mention that putz of a self-proclaimed god, Antiochus. But no. They also refused to stop circumcising their sons, which the Greeks thought was the most ridiculous, hideous custom they'd ever encountered.

    So what did the Jews do? Against all odds, they fought for their religious rights. And, amazingly, using guerilla tactics, the Maccabees, defeated the powerful Syrian-Greek army.

    Now, I'm not in favor of bloodshed. And I'm certainly not in favor of religious wars, of which there have been altogether too many. But it really gets me mad when people tell other people what and how to believe. Like the kids in your old neighborhood, we should just learn to tease each other a little, and let it go at that. Let's face it, all of our belief systems are tease-worthy. For me, Hanukkah is a reminder that if we all tired to be more tolerant, and just live and let live, the world would be a much nicer place.

  4. Donna,

    No I didn't play with the girls at that age, I just did strip tease shows for them! Like I say the 50s was a magical time to grow up, and little hazardous on the hiney. We did have sexist teasing fests across the gender lines, and there were some coeducational games of tag, hide and go seek, and doctor and nurse (damn I missed out on those).

    Somehow I think Hanukkah Harry is smiling on one of his daughters right now. Lovely explanation of the true meaning of Hanukkah, and you are absolutely correct, a little tolerance would go a long long way. As always thanks for stopping by and commenting, and indeed a Happy Hanukkah and a very Happy New Year to you.

  5. wow--you have such a great blog!!I adore it!!))

  6. Anita,

    Thanks for following my blog and the very kind comment. Have a wonderful Holiday.

  7. Folklore begun by lil' folks! I'd never heard of Hannukah Harry, although I've heard plenty from my husband plenty about the trials of being the only Jewish kid on the block, and of having a birthday that almost always fell somewhere in the moveable eight days of Hannukah.

    My condolences on the loss of your mother. We may be parents at an early age, but adults only when our parents pass. (Lynn)

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  9. I'm sorry I missed reading this post prior to Christmas, but I had all that pesky shopping, baking and cooking to do. Oh well, I read it now and of course I loved it! What a great memory to share with us. As a little girl, me along with my 654 cousins (remember, we were Catholics and Mexicans, hence the many cousins), we believed in Santa Claus. But we knew that it was always one of our uncles in the Santa suit. C'mon...we knew that the Santa's in the department stores spoke English and now we have one in our grandparents home with a big, thick, black mustache speaking Spanish? It could only be Tio Tino or Tio Jesus, or maybe Tio Augustine or Tio Federico?

    Awww, childhood...a magical time.

  10. Alicia,

    Always a pleasure to have you stop by. I hope your Christmas was good and you were treated well by Santa.

    So you had bi-lingual Santas. Well that was nice of your uncles to dress up as Santa, and entertain 655 children! We would listen for the bells on the reindeer. Odd my father was always missing when we heard those bells outside and go running off to bed. Childhood was a magical time, and believing in Santa was very magical. Thanks for commenting and have a Happy New Year.

  11. Lynn,

    Oooops. I saw Cas's picture and thought the above comment was from her. Rereading it this morning, I see your name at the end. Please accept my apologies. I deleted my reply from yesterday and copy and pasted it here. The following is the exact text but with the reference to post on Cas's mother removed. Again please accept my apologies for not noticing your name clearly at the end of your post.

    Thanks for stopping on by, commenting, and the condolences. Your comment on being an adult runs true...I remember of thinking at my mother's funeral arrangements, "its time to grow up." On the other hand, count your blessings that it is your parents and not your children that make you grow up. Still losing a parent is tough.

    Kids that have coincidental birthdays with holidays do get the short end of the stick, don't they? Being the only one of any kind of kid on the block usually results in trials and tribulations. There were plenty of other Protestants in our neighborhood, but I had the honor of having the only alcoholic father on our end of the street. But even at that, it wasn't as bad as the poor girl at the top of the street. Her father was a mean drunk. Well we all grow up, although I often wonder what happened to that poor girl. They moved away when I was still quite young.

    Thanks again for stopping by and a very happy New Year to you and your family. I hope Hanukkah Harry was kind to your husband this year.

  12. It is sad to go back in a home after Mom passes but also good memories are there. Nice that you always cut the grass.

  13. Kim,

    With my mother's house there are a lot of good and bad memories, mostly good, but also a lot of regrets. We can't live in the past, but hopefully we can learn from it. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Have a Happy New Year.

  14. i hope you one day will post å photo of that house..i love old houses...its a feeling deep inside to look how people lived..what did they do??what did they think and what happened to them..its a very interesting post you have..including the relegion.i have to come back later and read it again..that lamo witht the oil in was very special..i wonder why they used that kind of oil and was it a history behind it..thank you very much for visiting me in my lonliness.up here in norway..iam looking forward for your next post!!Greetings anita

  15. Anita

    I think you would find my mother's house rather boring. It is not that old. Typical 1950s blue collar middle class suburban cookie cutter home. Nothing special or quant.

    The thing that made the olive oil special was that it was blessed. The one container had not been defiled by the invaders.

    Well you are welcome, I enjoy your blog and the beautiful photos and paintings very much. Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog.

    Have a happy New Year.