When it comes to religious holidays, Christmas is arguably the most widely celebrated. Other festivals are equally important because they act as celebrations for different cultures. Hanukkah is a crucial part of the Jewish faith, commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Comics have developed into a good source of observing religious practices through different characters.
After reading The Merry X-Men Christmas Special, I came across a story with Magneto and how he observes the holiday season. Magneto’s Jewish background is a major part of his character, but his faith has never been explored in a Christmas context. I’m looking into what the holidays signify for the Master of Magnetism and how it’s impacted his world view.
A time of remembrance
As a boy, Magneto likely practiced Jewish traditions with his family. But after his experiences with the Holocaust, Magneto stopped believing in God. This was confirmed in Uncanny X-Men #150 when Erik confessed his lack of faith to Storm.
“I remember my own childhood – The gas chambers in Auschwitz. The guards joking as they herded my family to their death. As out lives were nothing to them, so human lives became nothing to me. As a boy, I believed. As a boy, I turned my back on God forever.”
In Cullen Bunn’s ‘The Impossible Enemy’ it’s revealed Magneto has a habit of visiting Warsaw during December. He walked among the ruins of a city where countless Jews were persecuted during the war. In the story, Magneto rescues two boys and offers to teach them how to protect themselves.
One of the boys finds a menorah in an abandoned shop and it gives him hope. The menorah is a central image of Judaism and Hannukah. The candelabrum is lit for the nine days of Hannukah. Every night, a new candle is set aflame as a way to remember the importance of the holiday.
In contrast to the boy’s optimism, Magneto is cynical. He believes the gesture to be futile and doesn’t seen anything to celebrate. In his eyes, the struggle for mutant survival is an ongoing battle. However, the boy challenges Magneto’s perception by urging him to see what Hannukah represents.
“A small band of the faithful faced an impossible enemy. And even though the Jews were outnumbered…even though they did not stand a chance…they drove their enemies from the land.”
Magneto considers the boy’s opinion and decides that it is important to remember the miracles of the past.
Given everything Magneto experienced, it’s no surprise that he would turn away from his faith. But the fact that his cynicism can be challenged by a boy is a powerful image. Within the context of the story, mutants are compared to the Jews who fought to reclaim their faith against the Greeks. In modern society, mutants are considered outsiders. Although Erik may not practice Judaism, he can appreciate the symbolism. Through a child’s hope, Magneto learns faith shouldn’t be dismissed so easily. It can be a source of strength, especially during the holiday season.
‘The Impossible Enemy’ offers a fresh perspective on one of the most complex characters in pop culture. Magneto may never reclaim his faith, but he can still believe in a better future for his people. Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hannukah, it’s never a bad thing to believe in miracles.
There’s a range of Jewish superheroes who’re worth reading about. Check out this list I’ve put together of four prominent Jewish comic characters.