Hanukkah Has Its Advantages, Too!
Thanksgiving is over, meaning the few remaining stores with some discretion have put up their decorations (joining the vast majority who started in early November), and the holiday muzak is blaring everywhere – so it’s hard for Jews not to feel overwhelmed and outnumbered. Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday, so we aren’t really going to compete with giant electric menorahs on our front yards, and it’s highly unlikely that Lifetime will air a new series of “Heartfelt Hanukkah” made-for-TV movies. And it’s particularly hard for parents – our kids are singing carols in school, making ornaments out of popsicle sticks, and hearing about their friends who anticipate scoring major gift hauls. How do we help our kids, and ourselves, feel better about this imbalance?
It’s even more challenging around my house, since I’m divorced from my kids’ father, and they spend Xmas with him and his large family. At one home they’re getting dozens of gaily wrapped presents, including all the toys, games, or nice clothing they wanted (the list does change as they get older). And at my house, they get seven really minor gifts (books, gelt, or a package of socks) plus a larger one that has to be semi-educational. (Yeah, I’m one of those moms.) And while I’ve tried to raise them with a good sense of Jewish identity while respecting their father’s family, they do occasionally get confused. (When my older son was seven, he informed me that he definitely understood the difference – Hanukkah was about a miracle after a war, and Xmas celebrated the birth of Santa Claus.)
Some Jewish comedians have put forth lists of why Hanukkah is better, including items like "There are no Kathie Lee Gifford or Donny & Marie specials" and "there’s no such thing as Hanukkah fruitcake." But that kind of rationale is focusing on the negative, what we don’t have to do, and putting down Xmas. The vast majority of people in this country do celebrate Xmas, and there are many wonderful aspects of that holiday we can all enjoy – lots of parties, wonderful music (other than the dogs barking Jingle Bells), the fragrance of fresh pine trees, etc. So as a public service, I’m going to offer some positive reasons why Hanukkah is a great holiday, without needing to put down any others:
For some more Hanukkah delights, check out:
- Hanukkah highlights how exciting history can be, plus the story of the Maccabees puts to rest those rumors that Jews aren’t good soldiers or athletes (so no more jokes about the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame being a shelf).
- Eight days means you have lots of extra time to shop.
- It’s not all about gifts, but gift-giving has become acceptable, which means you can choose whether to focus on values like tradition and heritage, or to say the heck with it, bring on the presents!
- Non-Jewish friends or relations who love shopping at craft fairs will give you all sorts of fun miscellany. (My mother-in-law always finds great stuff – last year she sent me a pot holder shaped like a dreidl.)
- Hanukkah reminds us that there are many languages in the world (and yeah, Feliz Navidad sort of counts, but it’s still the same alphabet; Hebrew even allows for creative spelling when we transliterate, which is why no two Hanukkah/Chanuka/etc. cards are alike).
- It’s the only holiday where we are actually TOLD to eat lots of fried food (and according to my diet rules, anything eaten for religious reasons has fewer calories).
- It’s a great opportunity to teach kids candle safety, and they get to feel grown up because they’re allowed to handle fire.
- The market for Hanukkah music isn’t already saturated, so songwriters have plenty of room for creativity.
I’ve put some of these advantages into “Eight Is Better Than One,” a song from my album, “Latkes, Shmatkes" (a fabulous Hanukkah gift!). Here’s the accompanying video (and yes, I did take a couple of cheap shots at Donny & Marie, etc., but that’s too hard to resist!).