For nine out of 10 Americans, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Whether you’re Christian or not, Christmas is a big freakin’ deal. Even the buggiest of bah-humbuggers can’t escape the incessant ringing of the Salvation Army bells and the red Starbucks cup fiasco in their social media feeds.
But here’s what almost 10 out of 10 Americans don’t know: Hanukkah is NOT a big deal.
Because it runs in tandem with Santa’s reindeer, many think that this Jewish holiday must hold a great deal of importance. But truth be told, it’s not even in the Hebrew bible. Historically, Jews gave and received gifts on a spring holiday called Purim. The story of Hannukah, which comes from the book of Maccabees, is a minor Jewish holiday at best. And don’t get me started on the Maccabees. How bummed was I to find out only recently that the heroes of our Hanukkah story were equivalent to modern day religious terrorists?
And then there’s the oil that was supposed to burn for one day but miraculously burns for eight days, hence the eight nights of presents (the part most folks are familiar with). As a child, I felt smug to have a holiday that lasted longer than Christmas and milked more gifts out of my family. As a parent, I’m glad my children have a reason to get gifts at a time of year when they would otherwise feel left out. But truth be told, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. If you’re not a kid or don’t have kids, then Hanukkah is hardly a holiday at all. It amazes me how businesses try to capitalize on such a trivial holiday, even making Hanukkah toys for dogs (which of course, I can’t help but buy every year, they’re too funny!).
Our big holidays are known as the High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). They are nowhere near as fun as Christmas and Easter. No candy or presents. No bunnies or fat, jolly white guys (unless you count the sweaty dude in the third row at temple). Kids can miss school — they are excused absences, but absences nonetheless. And for what? To sit in services all day wearing itchy tights and neckties, followed by more sitting around the family dinner table (in Yom Kippur’s case, after a day of fasting). It’s arguable that being in school is more fun than sitting through a two-hour guilt-ridden sermon about why you should come to temple for more than just two days a year for the holidays.
So if you accidentally wish me a Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, don’t feel bad. Or if you wonder why I might not travel to spend Hanukkah with my family, you can stop wondering. Have a very Merry Christmas, and don’t worry about us. We have our Chinese food on Christmas Eve, and our movies on Christmas Day, and we love it.