5 Questions Every Jew Has Been Asked: Chanukah Edition

Growing up in predominantly Christian town, I was used to being in the minority. I never really noticed it until I was older. When I was younger, I had plenty of close friends that understood the Jewish side of my identity from religious school. But after everyone became a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, I quickly found myself being the only one at Friday night services my age. Both of my parents are Jewish, and they are both pretty religious, and that’s just what I was always taught. But over the course of my just-under-17 years in Fort Myers, FL, I got asked a decent amount of “Jewish questions.”

Since Dec. 12 is the first night of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights (that traditionally is not a major holiday, but since it typically falls around the winter months, has become commercialized to fall under the "holiday season") — here are some of the questions I've been asked about the Festival of Lights and traditions that come with it.

1. “So, do you celebrate both (Chanukah and Christmas)?”

This is possibly the most commonly asked question, and I remember the very first time someone asked me this. I was shocked, and I couldn’t help but start laughing. But I quickly realized they weren’t joking. What? Why would I celebrate Christmas? Why would I celebrate the birthday of Jesus, the man that my religion believes to be a teacher, or do-gooder, but not the messiah or to have much to any religious symbolism? Not that I look down upon anyone who does believe he was the messiah, not at all. But why would I, not believing this, celebrate this holiday just about him? I assumed this person must just know primarily Jews that have parents of different religions. But when I explained that both my parents were Jewish, this didn’t explain anything to them. I just had to sigh and explain that I do not celebrate Christmas because it doesn’t follow the teachings of my religion.

2. What’s a latke?

A what? What’s a potato pancake? Oy. *Face palm.* Think of a hash brown, but slightly better, And you can dip it in your choice of sour cream or applesauce. I know, sounds weird (and gross!) but trust us.

3. Do you really get a present every night?

Everyone, just like any holiday, celebrates it differently. Some families give gifts every night, but not all families do this. I don’t usually get one every night anymore. But when I was younger, I’d get at least one present a night, and possibly more. It just depended on how many gifts you had to start with, then divide accordingly. Most people I knew got around eight presents for Christmas anyway, and at least you get to open them all at once. Patience is truly a virtue.

4. So did you always know Santa wasn’t real?

Again, yes. And again, this may be different for everyone. I don’t remember if there was a time that I did believe in him, solely off of movies, school, etc. (minus my parents encouragement or discouragement). But as far as I can remember, I don’t recall in a time I did believe in him. In fact, I remember one Christmas Eve my cousins and I staying up past midnight to search the sky endlessly out the window for sign of any reindeer or sleighs to see nothing but stars and moon.

5. When’s Chanukah? Why don’t you know?

Chanukah changes every year, so I may not always know the exact date it begins that year by November. This is because the Hebrew calendar is lunar, while the Gregorian, or Western calendar (the one modern society follows today) is solar. So Chanukah is on the same day every year in the Hebrew calendar, but this day falls on a different date of the Gregorian calendar every year.

Happy Hanukkah to everyone who celebrates!