I’m a Hanukkah purist. At least a purist from that sacred era of the 1980s, a time before the expression “Hanukkah craft” entered the average Jewish mother’s vernacular.
My parents and my friends’ parents knew that Hanukkah could never compare to Christmas. I don’t remember this community-wide hand-wringing over how the Jewish children could accept why radio stations and stores exclusively played Christmas music without including some versions of Dreidel Dreidel and Maoz Tzur. Nobody was worried about hurting Hanukkah’s feelings or making sure everyone’s holiday got the same size participation trophy every December.
I believe that the visual nature of social media platforms has made the Christmas-Hanukkah comparison significantly worse than in Hanukkahs past. I’ve seen Hanukkah-themed gingerbread houses and gingerbread cookies on Pinterest for goodness sake. While I realize there is no right and wrong way to get jazzed up about Hanukkah, I have to draw the line at gingerbread houses. I mean, come on.
Similarly, I’m weary of this expectation that stores like Target dedicate a whole aisle to Hanukkah plates, serving platters, cups, banners, and more. Sure, there were some Hanukkah products at the synagogue’s gift shop and local Judaica stores when we were kids, but I honestly don’t remember this level of Hanukkah paraphernalia.
Stores might argue that they stock these items because people demand them. But it’s just as possible that people feel they “should” buy them and deck out the house in this blue and white tinsel because it will help the holiday feel more Christmas-like. And that’s what ultimately bothers me about the whole commercialization of Hanukkah. The one major advantage we had over the insanity of the Christmas season was the sweet simplicity of our brave little holiday.
The Hanukkah I remember, depending on your parents’ level of Jewish education, was a war story with a miraculous Jewish win to keep our religious freedom. In some families it might have been a holiday focused on the miracle of the oil lasting longer than expected. For other families, maybe the holiday was about the buzz words menorah, dreidel, latke, and eight nights of presents. In every case, Hanukkah was small potatoes compared to the string of Jewish holidays that preceded it in the fall. That’s the Hanukkah I’m fighting to keep, the Hanukkah that shrugged at Christmas and acknowledged it looked like fun and all, but had nothing to do with us.
For parents who like to infuse Hanukkah with the Christmas spirit, I’m not here to stop you. That’s your business so don’t send me hate mail. (Though I admit that I don’t think the efforts will do anything to rival Christmas.) I’m speaking on behalf of the Jewish parents like me who want to keep Hanukkah a no-fuss situation. I want to serve latkes on a beautifully set, but not dreidel-themed plastic table cloth without feeling as if I’ve failed to add the proper pizazz. I want the forces-that-be selling Hanukkah decor for the fireplace mantel to LET MY HANUKKAH GO.
What am I willing to do on Hanukkah?
1. Light the menorah each night and scrape the wax off in the morning? I’m your girl.
2. Buy practical gifts for the kids and make each night special, but reasonable? Check.
3. Peel potatoes, fry up those latkes, and smell like oil for a week? Yes, Ma’am.
4. Play dreidel and pretend it’s loads of fun? I should win an Oscar.
5. Make sufganiyot? Well, no, but I’ll buy them and respect the heck out of people who create them from scratch.
6. Make a pumpkin, turkey, or cranberry-centered Hanukkah meal? Maybe this year, but then it’s back to brisket.
Am I the only one tired of the commercialization of Hanukkah?