March 31, 2020

Better to be a Mensch Than a Grinch About Hanukkah

Are you a Hanukkah hater? Do you like to say things like, “it’s not the Jewish Christmas” or “it’s just a minor holiday” when defending the way you celebrate Hanukkah? 

As a Jewish mom on social media, I get a lot of messages telling me that presents, parties and decorations are “goyish” and that I shouldn’t celebrate Hanukkah in the way I do. 

I get it! 

A lot of Jewish families correctly acknowledge that Hanukkah is not one of the High Holy Days in the Jewish calendar year, and as such, it shouldn’t receive the prominence it does every December. Yet no one criticizes an over-exuberant Rosh Chodesh festival, it’s the anti-Christmasification of Hanukkah that spurs the hate. So in this holy war on the holidays, who is really winning?

Every year Christmas seems to get bigger and bigger (these days, I blame Instagram). It starts earlier (I’ve seen decorations out before Halloween in many a mall), the films get more abundant (the Hallmark Channel marathons are unending), and the presents, decorations, and celebrations are almost magical in their splendor. 

Thank you, Santa! Many Christians lament this pattern and complain that all this emphasis on Santa diminishes from the religious significance of Jesus in the Christmas story. Christmas has been Americanized, and Americans are enjoying the blown-out affair all the more. We’re starting to see stores selling Hanukkah in the same way they sell Christmas. 

Although it would be nice if they had the same enthusiasm for Passover and Rosh Hashanah, I believe this is fundamentally a good thing. I believe that Hanukkah, and as a result Judaism, benefits from some Americanization and that by shrinking it down out of fear that it will seem Christmassy is short-sighted and harmful.

I’ve never met a Jewish kid that didn’t have a curiosity about Christmas. What would it be like to wake up one morning and have a giant pile of presents magically appear under a beautifully decorated tree? Can’t we at least make Hanukkah fun too? Who is harmed by this? Many Jewish families today are unaffiliated and/or intermarried and many of them celebrate Christmas in some form. Can we really blame them? And, is refusing to make Hanukkah just as fun helping anyone?

Throughout history Jewish cultural and religious traditions have been influenced by the places we’ve lived. As a people in exile for much of history, we’ve adopted many local traditions as our own. After all, did you think blintzes, bagels and lox were handed down at Mount Sinai? Most Ashkenazi Jewish foods are really just our takes on Eastern European fair. That’s not a bad thing, being flexible to aspects of assimilation has ensured our survival.  

We don’t need to have a Hanukkah bush, but we can have beautiful hanukkiyot, piles of gelt and latkes and presents too! We can hold onto our Jewish values and the religious aspects of the holiday without vilifying anyone who wants to put up a blue and white garland. Judaism is additive, it grows and expands with the love and thought we pour into it. I say we should decorate our home with dreidels and ‘Happy Hanukkah’ signs and we needn’t feel any Jewish guilt about it. Embracing Judaism in a way that brings me joy is the best way to ensure I’ll always embrace it.

Marion Haberman is a writer and content creator for her YouTube/MyJewishMommyLifechannel and Instagram @MyJewishMommyLife page where she shares her experience living a meaning-FULL Jewish family life. Haberman is currently writing a book on Judaism and pregnancy titled ‘Expecting Jewish!’ to be released Winter 2019. She is also a professional social media consultant and web and television writer for Discovery Channel, NOAA and NatGeoand has an MBA from Georgetown University.

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