Stop trying to be Christmas, Hanukkah
A pair of Jews want Hanukkah to just be Hanukkah, because when Hanukkah tries to fight Christmas, Hanukkah loses.
Hanukkah is a great holiday. It celebrates two improbable victories: the military victory of the Jews over their oppressors, and the spiritual victory of some oil that wouldn’t stop burning. We light candles every year to remind us that our wildest dreams are possible, even if everything we know tells us they shouldn’t be.
However, Hanukkah is nothing like Christmas. It just happens to be a Jewish holiday typically celebrated around the same time as Christmas. For this, and no other reason, it became the de facto substitute holiday for Jews, so little Jewish kids didn’t have to feel bad about the fact that all their classmates were celebrating the awesome holiday with gifts.
But Hanukkah is ill-equipped to do battle with Christmas. By trying to shoehorn it into the Christmas-sized hole in our Jewish lives, we’re doing a disservice to a fine holiday, and leave the Jewish kids we’re trying to help feeling insecure about their lesser holiday.
Let’s go to the tale of the tape.
You can take or leave all the classic Christmas carols — they’re mostly fine in moderation — but Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is a banger for all seasons. It was the frontrunner to be the national anthem of the United States before Francis Scott Key pulled strings and orchestrated an upset from within.
How many Hanukkah songs are there? There’s “Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel,” “Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah” and some Adam Sandler songs where he tries to make you feel less alone by listing dead celebrities. This is a massacre.
I googled “Hanukkah movies” just now and found two listicles purporting to tackle the seemingly easy task of finding eight Hanukkah movies. Let’s see how those lists went:
Independence Day literally takes place during Independence Day instead of Hanukkah. There is only one more Jewish person in it (2) than talking alien in it (1). This list also includes Annie Hall, so I presume their list of Christmas movies is just “movies with Christians in it.”
By my count, there are two movies primarily about Hanukkah — “The Hebrew Hammer,” a Comedy Central Blaxploitation parody, and “Eight Crazy Nights,” an animated movie starring/written by Adam Sandler.
By what we’ve uncovered here, Adam Sandler is responsible for 50 percent of our Hanukkah movies and 33 percent of our Hanukkah songs — higher if we include his sequels to “The Chanukah Song.” This is not okay. Adam Sandler made many funny movies when he was younger, but he cannot be the primary cultural representative of this holiday. Because that means with each successive sequel to “Grown Ups,” Hanukkah’s reputation gets sullied.
Christmas has a day. Dec. 25. You can count down the months and weeks and days ahead of time.
Hanukkah does not have a day. It bounces around, which isn’t that big a problem. But even then, there are difficulties.
Big Hanukkah tells us that the length of Hanukkah is one of its great attributes. “Your Christian friends have one day,” Big Hanukkah tells us. “We have eight! That means eight times the fun! And eight days of presents!”
This isn’t how this actually works. Nobody has ever received eight good presents for Hanukkah. Not many people can come up with eight good present ideas, nor can many people afford eight good present ideas. Here are the ways this actually unfolds:
1. The One Big Present Method: You get a big present on the first night of Hanukkah and then socks and pencils. This essentially makes Hanukkah fun for one day, and therefore ruins the supposed advantage of the eight-day holiday.
2. The Dilution Method: You get a few okay gifts, spread across the holiday. This prevents you from actually getting a good gift.
3. The Backloaded Method: You get one big gift, but we’re giving it to you on the eighth night. By this point, most of your friends will have had their Hanukkah gifts for seven days, and some will have already forgotten it is still Hanukkah.
None of these are as good as one big day. And because Christmas is a concrete day, you don’t have to go to school. In fact, you get like, a week before Christmas off and a week after Christmas off.
Most of the time, Hanukkah does not fall during Christmas break. And because Hanukkah starts at night, Jewish boys and girls are robbed of the best part of Christmas: waking up and getting presents.
For the first 10 hours of the first night of Hanukkah, your day is like every other day. You go to school, you do what your teachers say, you come back from school. And then you wait about two hours. Only then do you get presents. And then a few hours later you have to go to sleep.
When you have eight days, you barely have any days.
A menorah is a thing that holds candles. Jews know candles. A practicing Jew has to light candles all the time. You light candles for Shabbat, every Friday night. You light candles for the end of Shabbat, the havdalah service, every Saturday night. You light yahrzeit candles on the anniversary of the deaths of family members.
A tree is a large organism that is messy and lives outdoors, and yet every year, millions of people put them in our homes for about three weeks. A tree in a home is a sign that one has reached a season they love so much, they have decided to do something very silly.
Putting a tree in a home is a drunk idea we stuck with because it’s so cozy and special. A menorah is just one of many candleholders in a Jewish calendar that is filled with candleholders. Putting them next to each other in public squares and lobbies of buildings is a constant reminder that one is less cool.
(Oh, and you can’t put gifts under a menorah. They will light on fire. Our parents put gifts in cabinets we couldn’t reach, which is much less fun than the under-the-tree thing.)
The red and green of Christmas are symbols and dating back hundreds and thousands of years. Does Hanukkah have colors? Blue and … white? Gold, maybe? Basically just Israeli flag colors.
Hanukkah also has a major SEO problem in its uncertain spelling. No joke: Both of us spelled it “Hannukah” until very recently. It’s a tricky word, and the industry has never fully committed to one spelling. Do you want the Hebrew ח sound in there or no? How many Ns and Ks do you want? MAKE UP YOUR MIND, BIG C/HAN/NNUK/KKAH
Hanukkah probably has Christmas beat for dinner foods because … what do people even eat for Christmas? Goose? Probably goose. Jews just fry everything. Latkes are excellent, doughnuts are excellent, and you can bump out the kugel and challah as well.
LATKE CONDIMENT RANKINGS INTERMISSION
1. Ketchup. That’s right. Fight me. FIGHT ME AND I WILL SPIT VINEGARY TOMATO PUS IN YOUR EYE LIKE A COBRA.
2. Hot sauce
3. Sour cream/apple sauce (tie because they are best mixed)
Christmas stomps Hanukkah dessert-wise, though. Nobody I’ve encountered actually eat doughnuts on Hanukkah, whereas everybody has Christmas cookies. And while the signature candy of Christmas, the candy cane, is merely okay, it’s a hell of a lot better than the flavorless, fingernail-shredding, chocolate-flavored-product coins they call Hanukkah gelt. Is gelt actually valid currency? Because I would happily exchange, say, 100 pieces of gelt for a penny instead of picking the metallic wrappers off all those disappointing little turd discs.
Bobsledders aside, Hanukkah can’t compete with Christmas. It’s poorly organized and branded for the modern child consumer, and it falls short in most festive traditions. Our suggestion for Hanukkah in 2014 and beyond: Stop trying to beat Christmas on its own terms and distinguish yourself by returning to your roots: Gambling. High-stakes dreidel is the future of Hanukkah.