I have to admit it’s hard for me to get excited about Christmas. I guess at least a small part of that has to do with me being Jewish. And believe me when I tell you that Hanukkah is not nearly as exciting as you might guess. Wooden spinning toys, greasy potato pancakes that make your house reek like an onion factory exploded in it & obligatory daily prayers are not nearly as thrilling as they sound. If you don’t know much about Hanukkah, let me tell you a few key details.
I grew up in a place where Jews were by far the minority: America. When I was a kid there was no real public promotion of Hanukkah anywhere outside of a synagogue gift shop. Now, even Target has a dedicated Hanukkah section. Sure it’s about 1/1000th the size of their Christmas section, but I think it’s still a bit larger than their Festivus and Boxing Day (Canada) areas. It’s in this section where you can buy holiday classics like this book about Elmo. I actually never realized he was Jewish. Especially since he looks like a giant
piece of lint from Santa’s clothing.
The one big thing that most people associate with Hanukkah is not the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem or the Maccabees rebellion or even that the oil managed to stay lit for 8 days. Nope, it’s presents.
Some enterprising Americans (obviously Jewish) in the early 20th century realized that they could capitalize on the seasonal timing of this minor Jewish holiday and turned it into a Jewish companion to Christmas. For that I am thankful. Otherwise I would have been forced to watch all the kids at school playing with their new Ewoks and GI Joes while I was carrying my floppy yellow net-bag filled with gooey chocolate coins. I was always amazed by how those things melted when it was 42 degrees outside.
Hanukkah is also known as The Festival of Lights. The major symbol of the holiday is the Menorah, the simple 9 branched candelabra which we light candles on every night during the celebration. So if it’s the Jewish festival of lights why is it that non-Jews are the people who cover their homes with enough bright lights that you could spot them from Uranus? Are their lights supposed to symbolize the number of candles that would be on Jesus’ birthday cake?
Since we are celebrating the miracle that the oil lasted for 8 days, we are supposed to eat foods that are fried in oil in commemoration. I just realized that I effectively honor this facet of Hanukkah year round. Perhaps the greater miracle is that my cholesterol number was 151 at my recent physical.
In addition to Latkes (potato pancakes) another fried food that people eat on Hanukkah is Sufganiyot (Jelly Donuts). One of my favorite Hanukkah traditions comes from my wife’s family. They introduced me to the mass consumption of donuts during the holiday period. When we get together for the annual family celebration, rather than frying fresh donuts (as some people allegedly do, but none I’ve ever known) we crack open a couple pink boxes and have our way with Winchell’s finest. The last couple of years I’ve taken it upon myself to be the donut selector. It’s a difficult job, but someone has to do it. And I don’t want to get stuck with a box full of Crullers.
As the Little Dude grows up, it is my wife’s and my responsibility to teach him about our Jewish heritage. We need to make sure he carries on the customs and traditions that our people have practiced since way back in the Truman administration. With cultural advances like Hershey’s Kisses being sold in blue and white packages, we are making an impact on society. I guess what it comes down to is my hope that he’ll grow up in a time and place where people won’t look at him strangely for playing with his Dreidel in public.
If you celebrate, Happy Hanukkah! If you don't, you are this week's "Other 99%".
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