I have a question for all of you folks who celebrate Christmas, in part, by celebrating the holidays and traditions of others. Are you still interested in Judaism or anything remotely related to Jewish culture once Christmas is over? Does your cultural curiosity extend beyond Judaism? Do you know anything about Kwanzaa? Diwali? Eid?
I’m not sure when it became a mandate of Christmas to celebrate the religious holidays and cultural traditions of others, but the point was hammered home for me on a recent episode of Sid the Science Kid.* Sid’s parents were trying to sell him on celebrating Christmas in cold-as-hell Wisconsin, where his apparently Jewish Aunt Irene celebrates her “holiday” by serving latkes.
First of all, I’m pretty sure that there are three Jews in Wisconsin and two of them are related to me. But, okay, the third is Aunt Irene and she serves latkes. In a shocking turn of events, Sid announces that he would prefer to remain in a warmer locale, open tons of presents and eat ham. He’ll pass on Aunt Irene’s sad serving of tater tots. He wants Christmas. Well, duh.
What Jew didn’t see that coming? Hanukkah is a mere blip on the radar of Jewish holidays. Not quite one of our best. Sure, you celebrate for eight days. Eight days of paltry gifts and drippy wax candles. No one would ever become Jewish to celebrate Hanukkah because Hanukkah just isn’t that great.
If you’re an interfaith family, this post isn’t directed at you. I get it. I understand why you celebrate both. Just one thing that you might consider: if the only Jewish holiday you celebrate is Hanukkah…well, your kids might feel like Sid does. It’s telling that the only way we know that Sid’s dad is Jewish is because of this episode. Nary a mention the rest of the year.
Here’s another fun fact about Hanukkah: The heroes of the story — the Maccabees? Fundamentalists. Extremists. So what you’re celebrating is a military victory where some religious Jews tore shit up on the battle field. Think the Taliban. It’s like the Taliban kicked ass and now we’re celebrating with doughnuts and gifts.
Hey, whatever floats your boat. The only thing that chaps my hide is this notion that your celebration of or interest in Hanukkah has anything to do with Judaism. The reason you’re interested in Hanukkah is not because of it’s Jewish significance but because it happens to fall near Christmas. It’s Christmas that compels you to share and connect with others. Not Hanukkah. Hanukkah is about winning wars and burning oil.
Why do I care?
I grew up in a small town with an even smaller Jewish community. Every December, I felt the weight of Christmas bearing down on me, making me that
weird kid who doesn’t want to write a letter to Santa Claus. I’m the outsider who doesn’t have a Christmas tree, doesn’t eat Christmas dinner and doesn’t live in a house covered in twinkly lights.
So I feel kind of resentful watching the entirety of my cultural heritage reduced to fried potatoes and candles and then absorbed into some “multicultural” celebration of Christmas cheer. If you’re going to appropriate a Jewish holiday, I wish you’d choose something else. If nothing else and at the very least, I’d like you to know the actual story of Hanukkah and why, if you’re not Jewish or Jewishly connected, it doesn’t make sense to celebrate Hanukkah.
*This is my best recollection of the episode. Forgive me if Aunt Irene is actually a Muslim living in Kansas.