by Clara Smith
Christmas and Hanukkah hybrids like the “Hanukkah bush” and stockings stuffed with gelt and dreidels are nice reminders of the winter celebrations, but they take away from the meaning behind each holiday. The two celebrations have nothing more in common than that they are religious observances that fall around the same time of year, yet they are consistently grouped together.
For example, holiday concerts offer songs about the different celebrations, but don’t bother with more symbols than a “holiday tree.” Towns make an effort to include everyone in the December festivities, but instead of creating separate displays for each religion, they simply lump a menorah or two on top of the Christmas tree. The very idea of a “Chrismukkah” celebration devalues the individual merits and stories of each holiday.
Furthermore, “Hanukkah Harry” may be a fun figure for kids to believe in, but the fact that Christian kids have a Santa does not mean that a Jewish parallel is necessary.
The story of Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of light and overcoming oppression. From the Biblical story, the Jewish people created the tradition of the dreidel and eternal light, which held meaning in the religion. Creating these symbols not only gave them power in the face of despair, but also gave them power over their religious identity.
However, by Christmatizing Hanukkah, Jewish people today are allowing what those in the Hanukkah story did not: their community and society to dictate the symbols that hold meaning in their religion.
Hanukkah may not be the most important holiday, but, as with every Jewish celebration there is a major lesson—both historical and modern—to be learned from it.