… or Chanukah, however you spell it.
Hanukkah is really getting swept under the rug this year amidst all the Christmas cheer, and as a half-Jew I’d like to dedicate this post to this 8 day miracle holiday. Also, this is probably the extent of my Hanukkah participation this year, it really snuck up on me. It’s actually kind of a shame that of all the Jewish holidays Hanukkah is the one that corresponds to Christmas. It would be much more fun if Passover were in December and Hanukkah was in the spring for the following reasons. Passover is a fun holiday of eating, singing, hiding things and drinking an entire glass of wine for every prayer you say, and while there are funny eating requirements for 7 days during Passover, the main celebration in which you actually have to do things is a one-day event. Most of the fun of Hanukkah was sort of forced upon it because Christmas is obviously so much more fun naturally and Jewish children were feeling left out. The main reason it would be better if Hanukkah and Passover traded places is that there are no presents exchanged at Passover. When you grow up celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah, December is a big month of holiday fun but the rip-off is that you never get presents both on Christmas day and the 8 days of Hanukkah. If Hanukkah were a safe distance from Christmas then there would be no excuse to not fully honor the Hanukkah tradition. Being half Jewish is like the birthday-near-Christmas of dual religions.
I don’t celebrate Hanukkah religiously by any means. Having moved to a smaller suburb outside of Charleston when I was in high school, my family had to get used to a grocery store that did not carry anything that wasn’t found in a Shoney’s buffet. This made Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays harder to celebrate at the last minute, which was sort of our style. One year when Hannukah came around we went to the store and find some Hannukah candles and were met with mass confusion among the staff. To be fair, I was met with the same confusion when I tried to find eggplant there earlier that year. I think we ended up using birthday candles.
Since moving away from home I’ve celebrated Hanukkah mostly by having big latke parties at my house and singing the latke song. Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner? I even light a menorah from time to time (granted, sometimes the menorah is a fire hazard that I’ve fashioned from aluminum foil), and say the candle-lighting prayer. Mostly because I’m a sucker for tradition. In terms of ritual, Christmas is probably the superior holiday in December, from a secular point of view, of course. The tree, lights, charity, music, stockings, and cinnamony-pine smell during the entire month of December put 8 days of nightly candle lighting and dreidel spinning to shame, yet Hanukkah and Christmas are forced to be compared to one another for the purpose of inclusion because of an unfortunate date proximity. Like Kwanzaa. I’m sure the 10 people (ok, 1 million?) who actually celebrate Kwanzaa in this country would just assume it be far far away from Christmas so people would stop patronizing it by including it in “holiday greetings” for fear of leaving someone out.
There are a few good things to come out of the Hanukka-Christmas political union. Hanukkah songs for example. We would probably not have any songs about Hanukkah (except for those freaky monotone ones that you sing in Hebrew) if it weren’t for Christmas carols making Jews feel left out. My favorites are Adam Sandler’s The Hanukkah Song, Hanukkah in Santa Monica (I heard that one today!), Dreidel Schmeidel, Mo’ Gelt Mo’ Problems and Nuthin’ But a ‘J’ Thang. Also funny Hanukkah cards. That’s not really a Hanukkah tradition but I enjoy the self-deprecating Jewish humor in card form this time of year. And this is sort of a contradiction, but I do slightly enjoy the awkward political correctness that is setting up a menorah, the only recognizable Hanukkah symbol, among Christmas decorations in public. That does not so much happen here though, as evident by the Beckley courthouse shamelessly displaying a nativity scene outside the building as I was told yesterday by a friend. Either West Virginians understand that no one would ever be putting up “Hanukkah decorations” if it wasn’t near Christmas and thus decline to conform to the PC standard, or the small town grocery store staff is a fairly good indicator of most peoples’ responses to Hanukkah here in general.