The Great Debate: Christmas versus Hanukkah

With winter break coming right up around the corner I feel it is only fitting to talk, and debate, about winter holidays. I’m Jewish and have only celebrated Hanukkah for my entire life, with the occasional Christmas party invites from friends. Ever since I was in grade school I have been jealous of all my friends getting present from Santa, drinking egg nog, decorating gingerbread houses, and eating as many cookies as they could before their stomachs burst. However, is Hanukkah really so bad? Yes, we may not have a Santa Claus or get to decorate a Christmas tree, but I’m thinking about Hanukkah and how it’s really not that bad compared to Christmas. So, let the battle commence with the century old feud between Christmas and Hanukkah and let's see what makes them so special!

 

Chanukah, Hannukah, Hannukkah, and Channukah

(yes, there are four different ways to spell it and it’s awesome!)

 

1) Blue and White Colors

Yes, Christmas might have its well-known green and red combo, but people always seem to forget about Hanukkah’s blue and white one. Not only are the colors visually appealing to the human eye, but they are also very symbolic to Judaism. A Jewish poet, in the late 1800’s, once wrote “blue and white are the colours of Judah; white is the radiance of the priesthood, and blue, the splendors of the firmament." It is also well known that blue and white come with universal associations, too. White suggests purity, peace, and light. Blue is associated with the sky, faith, wisdom, and truth.

 

2) 8 Days of Presents

This is probably the most well known and only upside of Hanukkah to most people who celebrate Christmas. Jews have a total of eight days of Hanukkah, that means 8 days of celebrations, delicious foods, getting to see family members, and PRESENTS! I could elaborate more, but I think 8 days of any holiday is self explanatory as to why it is amazing.

 

3) Menorah!

No, us Jews may not have Christmas trees and buy unnecessarily expensive ornaments to decorate them either. Instead, we have the symbolic menorah. The menorah represents a symbolic tradition for the Jews to take the time to pray for the 8 days of Hanukkah. Typically, though, Hanukkah menorahs will have 9 branches to hold the candles instead of 8. The ninth branch, also called the shamash, is the for the candle used to light the others. The other 8 are used to represent the 8 miracle days dating all the way back to 165 BCE when the menorah was created to commemorate the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Greco/Syrians.

 

4) The Food

The food is probably the best part of any holiday, but Hanukkah offers some of the best! Since it is the festival of lights, traditional foods include those that are fried in oil, representing the holy oil in the temple. Any Jew can reminisce on their childhood eating Grandma’s scrumptious potato latkes and some good old braised brisket. Doughnuts, more commonly known as sufganiyot, are one of the most well-known treats as Jews munch on them throughout the 8 days of Hanukkah. I can’t promise you that your stomach will be too happy afterwards, but in the moment it feels like bliss.

 

 

Christmas

 

1) Christmas Carols

There’s no denying the incredible festivity music brings to the holiday. Everyone, no matter what religion, knows Christmas music. It’s a feeling that makes you warm and happy at the same time. Although I love my good old “dreidel, dreidel” songs, I would be a liar if I said it topped “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which, fun fact, were actually written by Jews. There are so many different kinds of carols and just listening to one of them can get you into the Christmas spirit right away!

 

2) Christmas Trees

The good old Christmas tree, one of the most pivotal, yet fundamental parts of Christmas. The Christmas tree essentially ties in all aspects of Christmas together. It’s the place the presents go, you can sit around it and chat, and even gaze at its intricate detailing when bored. The tradition dates back to thousands of year ago and still remains stronger than ever being able to lift up any scrooge’s mood.

 

3) The Food

Ah, the Christmas feast, the event that brings along the gingerbread cookies, egg nog, and loose blouses. When I used to be invited to my friend’s houses for their Christmas dinners I would be shocked at the amount of food they could make fit on their tables; they would be adorned with apple cider, cranberry sauce, fruitcake, ham, all the kinds of pie you can possibly imagine, mashed potatoes, and the list goes on. It wasn’t just about the food, though, that made the dinner so special for me. It was rather the sense of comradeship and family love exuding from the table that made me realize how truly special Christmas is.

 

4) Santa Claus

Now, I could sit here and write out that the Hanukkah dreidel or whatever is comparable to Santa Claus, but if I’m being brutally honest I’m super jealous. I think every Jewish kid out there can relate with me on the fact that Santa Claus is awesome and we could only wish to have some big, fat man we could make cookies for and get present in return. Plus, it would give us an incentive to not be on the naughty list. The idea of being able to wake up on Christmas morning and have a room full of presents given to you by this mythological person is something any kid could be jealous of. I know that Jews have their eight days of presents, but I wouldn’t mind being able to also get them from Mr. Claus on Christmas morning.

 

So, you might be wondering which holiday won. I hate to take the easy way out, but I honestly cannot choose. Both holidays are equally special in their own right and the idea of putting them against each other is unfair. They both consist of a beautiful dinner meant to enjoy with your family, not about how many presents you get or how many cookies you can eat. That’s the thing about the two holidays, they both do their job of bringing people in together. Ultimately, they are meant to give family members the opportunity to spend time with each other while also honoring their religion’s sacred, age-old traditions.

 

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