The Evolution of Hanukkah
Perhaps you have heard some Jews laugh and brush off Hanukkah: “If only people knew how relatively minor and insignificant Hanukkah is,” they say, “they would never make such a big deal of it.” Have you ever heard this before: “It’s not that Hanukkah isn’t important—of course, it’s an important holiday about a miraculous victory of the Maccabbees,” they say. “It’s just that, compared to major holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Pesach, Hanukkah can’t—if you’ll excuse the expression—hold a candle!” I grew up hearing this message about Hanukkah, that it’s a nice, pretty holiday, but it’s not that important. And implied in this is the rather guilt-provoking message: You know, Jews of America, if you were more serious about your commitment to observance, you’d know that Hanukkah is getting more press than it deserves. And more than this, the secret that we Jews have to acknowledge is that the only reason Hanukkah gets all the attention it does is because of Christmas. All the Jewish kids who were jealous of their Christian friends getting presents resulted in the mass marketing of Hanukkah right alongside Christmas. So we Jews get to feel guilty, not only because we’re not observant enough, but also because we’re just copying Christians. We can all feel guilty because, ironically, Hanukkah, the holiday that is all about resisting assimilation, has become the purest expression of American assimilation.