Hanukkah shouldn’t be the Jewish Christmas. Articles and op-eds in newspapers
remind readers of that truth yearly, lamenting that the Jewish
Pageant of Lights has nearly grow to be an imitation of the Christian
These items exist for a motive. Hanukkah is a minor pageant within the
Jewish liturgical yr, whose main holidays come within the fall and spring
– the Excessive Holidays and Passover, respectively. Due to its proximity to Christmas, nevertheless, Hanukkah has been culturally elevated into a serious celebration.
American retailers and colleges nod to range by placing up menorahs subsequent to Christmas bushes or together with the dreidel track within the “vacation live performance” alongside Santa, Rudolph or the Christ little one. Even Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish motion, holds public menorah lightings that look remarkably like public Christmas tree lightings.
Retailer home windows, medical doctors’ workplaces and faculty eating halls show Christmas bushes and menorahs aspect by aspect, although the latter is a ritual object,
not merely a ornament. A menorah, or “hanukkiah,” is lit in a
particular manner, on particular days, with accompanying prayers – extra akin to
a Christian Introduction wreath than to the holly decking the halls.
A lot of my Jewish research and gender analysis focuses on interfaith households,
for whom these points could be particularly difficult. I empathize with Jewish
Individuals apprehensive about Hanukkah rising too much like Christmas – however
the historical past of each holidays is extra sophisticated than these comparisons
There’s a deep irony, after all, in seeing Hanukkah as a major
instance of assimilation: The pageant itself celebrates a victory
in opposition to assimilation.
In 168 B.C.E., Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of the Seleucid Empire, despatched his military to beat Jerusalem. He outlawed Jewish holidays,
Shabbat observance and practices reminiscent of circumcision. His troops set
up altars to the Greek gods within the Jewish temple, dedicating it to Zeus.
The Maccabees, a Jewish resistance motion led by a priestly household,
opposed each Antiochus and Jews who assimilated to the conquering Greek
tradition. Hanukkah celebrates the rebels’ victory over the Seleucid
Within the temple, the Jews stored an everlasting flame burning – as synagogues do right now.
When the Maccabees reclaimed the temple, nevertheless, there was sufficient oil
to final for less than a day. Miraculously, the story says it lasted for a
week: sufficient time to herald extra oil.
Conventional vacation celebrations, subsequently, embody lighting the menorah every evening for eight days and consuming meals cooked in oil. Spinning dreidel video games are additionally conventional, as are songs like “Maoz Tzur.”
topped with a Star of David, extravagant presents, neighborhood menorah
lightings within the park, blue and white lights on homes and Hanukkah Introduction calendars? Not conventional, if “conventional” means issues which have occurred for lots of of years.
Carols and carousing
Assimilation to the US’ Christian-majority tradition has
performed a job in Hanukkah’s trendy transformation. That stated, the story
of how Hanukkah got here to have the business, kids-and-gifts focus that
it has within the U.S. right now is a little more sophisticated.
When individuals fear that Hanukkah is solely a Jewish adaptation to the
Christmas reward season, I feel they’re imagining that Christmas itself
has at all times been as most Individuals right now understand it – with the presents, the
tree and the household togetherness. However, in truth, each modern
Christmas and modern Hanukkah grew up collectively in response to the Industrial Revolution.
Earlier than the Industrial Revolution, each Europe and North America have been
primarily agrarian societies. When the harvest was accomplished, your complete
Introduction season took on an air of revelry – there was caroling within the
streets and a certain quantity of drunken carousing. For the extra rich,
it was a season of events and balls. Typically, there can be class-based battle – like vandalism or different crimes – between the rich partygoers and the working-class road events.
The spotlight of the season was New Yr’s moderately than Christmas.
Items, if any, have been small and often handmade. The rich gave
end-of-the-year bonuses to servants and tradespeople. All in all, the
season was as a lot about pals as household, and celebrated in public as
a lot or greater than in non-public.
For quite a lot of causes, social campaigners within the early nineteenth century appeared to make Christmas into the home celebration of consumption
that we now have right now. The shift from seasonal farm work to
round the clock manufacturing unit work made the evenings of carousing problematic,
for instance – hungover employees are usually not good employees – and transferring the
celebration to a single day solved that drawback. In the meantime, non secular
voices tried to emphasise Christmas as a celebration of Christ in
However extra to the purpose, the Industrial Revolution created an enormous
market of comparatively reasonably priced items that wanted a market. Christmas
offered an considerable market. And so did Hanukkah.
New wants, new traditions
Jews obtained the identical ads for items and festive meals as
their Christian neighbors, and it was exhausting to withstand the pull of the
celebratory season. Nevertheless, the late American research scholar Dianne Ashton’s ebook “Hanukkah in America: A Historical past”
means that Hanukkah didn’t take its present type solely as a result of
American Jews have been imitating Christmas in some kind of non secular model
of maintaining with the Joneses.
Hanukkah, which is well known largely within the house, gave Jewish girls a
place to shine – very like a home Christmas gave such alternatives
to Christian girls. It allowed Jews to give attention to the household bonds, which
usually felt fragile and treasured within the shadow of immigration and kin left behind.
And specializing in youngsters,
reminiscent of by having them mild the candles – a job historically achieved by
grownup males – supplied a approach to have interaction the following technology in a time and
place the place being Jewish felt like a alternative.
In America, Jews have been full residents, free from the legal guidelines that had
beforehand stored their communities remoted in lots of components of Europe. That
freedom additionally made it simpler for every particular person to decide on how a lot to
have interaction with Jewish neighborhood, if in any respect. In America, you would depart
your Judaism behind with out changing to Christianity – and plenty of Jews did. Hanukkah was a enjoyable approach to construct attachments to the vacation.
American Jews tailored Hanukkah to their very own wants, emphasizing
elements of the faith that made it work on this new surroundings. One
can see that as assimilation, certain, nevertheless it was additionally adaptation for
survival. Becoming a member of within the “vacation season” did mitigate the sensation of
being an outsider, and a minority, on the holidays. But it surely additionally allowed
for the creation of a brand new manner of participating Judaism in a brand new house and