All I Want for Christmas Is…for It Not to Erase Hanukkah

Symbols of the 'Christmasification' of Hanukkah (L to R): Manischewitz's cookie-decorating kit (via shescribes.com); the Mensch on a Bench (via krwg.org); and a Hanukkah Bush (via haveuheard.com).

One Friday evening in early December, I went to the grocery store to gather supplies for a friend’s Hanukkah party. It was already the sixth night, and I was scrambling to find some gelt and a few dreidels. I knew that no Judaica stores or kosher markets would be open this close to Shabbat, so I had to rely on the small kosher section in my local grocery store. Luckily, there were a few boxes of gelt left, but no dreidels. Disappointed but unsurprised, I turned to head to the checkout counter and noticed an unusual addition to the usual Manischewitz boxed foods: a Christmas cookie-decorating kit. 

Upon closer inspection, I realized the kit was, in fact, Hanukkah-themed. There were cookies shaped like dreidels and stars of David, with blue and white frosting for decorating. For some reason, this unsettled me, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I had grown up in a household where we celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. At some point in my childhood I, too, had probably made Christmas cookies shaped like dreidels, particularly during years when the holidays fell around the same time.

My feeling that something wasn’t right only grew stronger as I continued my errands. Having been unable to locate dreidels at the supermarket, I stopped by my local gift shop, hoping to find a few there. I wandered into the crowded store, which was packed from floor to ceiling with tinsel, Christmas ornaments, and plastic Christmas trees, but nothing Hanukkah-related that I could see—that is, until I found a tiny rickety table that had a few packs of Hanukkah-themed greeting cards, a single, tiny, plastic dreidel….and a miniature Christmas tree complete with ornaments shaped like Hebrew letters.

At this point my mood changed from unsettled to frustrated. While a Hanukkah ornament does offer people from mixed-faith families, like me, a symbol of their own, the near absence of actual Hanukkah symbols felt dismissive and marginalizing. Celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas is one thing, but these stores were treating Hanukkah as a Jewish Christmas.

To be fair, holidays often reflect how cultures assimilate to or adopt facets of other cultures they come in contact with. Christmas itself varies across societies, because of how many earlier pagan practices were adopted into the religion. Judaism, too, has adopted aspects of other customs into both its religious and cultural practices. Throughout history, Judaism and Jewish people have been in dialogue with the Christian and Muslim communities around them. From this coexistence comes a plethora of literature, music, and food that would not exist if Jewish culture was walled off from other influences. It’s the reason we find variations of dishes like cholent or brisket in different parts of the world, and why klezmer music incorporates musical elements from Polish, Ottoman, and Middle Eastern traditions.

But there is an important distinction between acculturation and assimilation. For example, in many Orthodox communities, Stella D’Oro cookies are a fixture on Shabbat. An Italian-American company, Stella D’Oro makes cookies that are pareve, meaning that for those who keep kosher, they can be eaten with both meat and milk. The company’s swiss fudge cookies are so popular among observant Jews that they’ve earned the nickname “shtreimel cookies,” because they look like the shtreimel hats that some ultra-Orthodox Jews wear on Shabbat and other holidays.

In contrast to Christmas cookies, Stella D’Oro cookies aren’t trying to take something that is inherently Christian and market it as Jewish. Instead, Jews have incorporated an aspect of Italian cuisine into their culture.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with Jews decorating or eating sugar cookies. The issue with the Manischewitz Hanukkah cookies is the implication that because Hanukkah falls around the same time as Christmas, Jews should also be decorating cookies. This is consistent with people’s tendency to  mistakenly associate Hanukkah with Christmas— the menorah in an office building, for example, that stays next to the Christmas tree until January 1, long after Hanukkah has ended. Or holiday decor such as the “Hanukkah Bush,” created to make Jewish children feel better about not having a Christmas tree. And of course, there’s the “Mensch on the Bench,” which is just a Jewish Elf on the Shelf.

Why am I harping on this even though Hanukkah has already ended this year? Because the problem persists even after the holiday ends. In a recent news clip addressing an office Christmas tree that caught on fire, Fox newswoman Ainsley Earhardt stated: “It's a tree that unites us. It brings us together. It's about the Christmas spirit. It is about the holiday season. It's about Jesus. It's about Hanukkah. It is about everything that we stand for as a country.”

Earhardt’s ignorant words represent a common mindset around the Christmas season. Instead of being its own, sacrosanct holiday, Hanukkah is presented to Christian audiences as a Jewish Christmas, erasing the very aspects of Hanukkah that are important to Jews. When a Jewish company like Manischewitz does the same, it’s especially disheartening.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate multicultural and/or interfaith homes and perspectives. Many Jewish people (me included) will celebrate Christmas this year, among other holidays. And there are many ways to celebrate and honor multiple holidays. Maybe for you that does include decorating Hanukkah cookies and hanging Jewish ornaments on your Christmas tree, and that’s more than fine. But in a country where Christian hegemony reigns, we all deserve to have our holidays treated as our holidays, not as distorted reflections of the dominant culture.

 

 

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I'm more troubled by people who celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas , especially if they're Jewish than Manishewitz making perfectly kosher Chanukah cookies, which I can't purchase because I live in Israel, where every Jew who wants to escape this kind of thing should be living. December 25th? Just another day!

This perfectly expresses my perspective. I try to educate people but it’s difficult. There are three synagogues in my city yet I had a staff member at the largest grocery store in the area tell my they didn’t stock Hanukkah supplies because there are no Jews in the area. I’ve repeatedly complained to the grocery store nearest my house about the Jewish sale shelf at each holiday including sales in inappropriate food, like apple cake on sale before Passover, not synching the sales to the correct dates, and stocking tons of Christmas and communion cards but no Hanukkah or B’nai mitzvah.

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How to cite this page

Curry, Savoy. "All I Want for Christmas Is…for It Not to Erase Hanukkah." 21 December 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 16, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/all-i-want-christmas-isfor-it-not-erase-hanukkah>.