The Struggle Is-rael: Celebrating Hanukkah When Christmas Is the Main Character

Ready or not, ‘tis the season of red holiday Starbucks cups, Mariah Carey on loop in every store you walk into, and twinkling Christmas lights in the night sky. 

Growing up as one of the few Jews in my small town in Massachusetts, I always felt like the odd one out during the highly anticipated holiday season. I’d envy my Catholic friends who got to decorate their tree and take cute pictures, listen to "Mistletoe" by Justin Bieber and watch Elf without feeling a sense of guilt trickle up and down their spine. In first grade, we'd decorate stockings while watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, making me feel like there was something wrong with my menorah and dreidel at home (however, I did feel like the alpha when I found out Santa was a fraud at a young age).

Today, as I drive around seeing wreaths on every door and inflatable Santas on every front lawn, I’ll admit it — it’s hard not to feel left out, being Jewish during the Christmas season. Now, you’re probably thinking, well, why can’t you just hang up blue lights and put an inflatable menorah on your lawn? It’s a little more complicated than that. Christmas guilt is real, believe it or not. Just because Jews don’t have any decorations on their front lawn doesn’t mean they're not proud of their religion because they aren’t showcasing it. It means they’re practicing their religion how they should, without copying another. I always think this is a funny concept; Hanukkah was the initial holiday in December, and there are people out there who think we copy Christmas traditions.

israel flag Photo by Taylor Brandon from Unsplash

Every year, we Jews go on the epic scavenger hunt for the tacky Hanukkah decorations endcap that’s never enough in comparison to the isles and literal stores dedicated to Christmas. We’re tired of the same, lifeless dreidel string lights (that are clearly just a knockoff of Christmas lights). The sad attempts at retail stores selling Hanukkah bushes always rub me the wrong way. FYI: Hanukkah bushes don’t exist, they’re only on the shelf to make Jews feel like they “fit in.” Jews have nearly invented their own holiday through a Christmas mirror. Don’t even get me started with the Hanukkah decor markups. $13 for a plastic blue and silver headband and $5 for a reindeer headband? Where’s the logic here? Do companies heighten the prices of Hanukkah decor because there’s not enough supply for the demand? Or, maybe because of the stereotype of Jews having a little extra cash in the bank…I'll leave that one up to your imagination.

Putting a Hanukkah spin on Christmas traditions feels wrong. We appreciate the effort, corporate America, but do better…maybe we’ll appreciate some creativity a little more. Things are looking up though; this year was the first year that retail giant Target stocked Hanukkah merchandise in all 1,850 of its stores nationwide. 

Now, we have to remember Hanukkah isn’t the biggest holiday in the Jewish culture, that’s Yom Kippur. The Festival of Lights isn’t the equivalent of Jewish Christmas either just because it takes place in wintertime, although most seem to think it is. Photo by Element5 Digital from Unsplash

Don't get me wrong — I'm proud to be Jewish, but it can be hard to express that during the last week of December. It’s important to focus on the values that your religion actually teaches you, rather than the materialistic things that are associated with the holiday. P.S., you can spell it either way: Hanukkah or Chanukah.