Growing up, whenever one of my friends found out that I’m Jewish, I heard alot of this kind of thing: “Whoa! You get EIGHT NIGHTS of gifts at Hanukkah! That’s so cool!” I have always been slightly annoyed by this, for a couple of reasons that changed as I got older.
First, from my point of view as a young Jewish girl, the idea of Christmas gifts was just totally better than Hanukkah gifts, hands down. Who could think that eight nights of gifts in a row could top the excitement of running down the stairs in your footie pajamas, seeing the motherlode sitting under a gorgeous tree festooned with tinsel and beautiful ornaments? (It’s always greener on the other side, I guess!)
As I became an adult and a parent and then a religious school teacher, it became clear to me that, like Christmas, Hanukkah has become “about the gifts” for many, many people, which waters down its religious significance.
This is where I have to tell you (because so many non-Jews don’t know) that Hanukkah is actually, though important, a very minor holiday in the grand scheme of things, Judaism-wise. I am pretty sure that Hanukkah is given a higher level of importance than it really is because:
1. It occurs close to Christmas
2. The Jewish kids feel better, like maybe they’re not missing out on anything that their Christian friends get
3. People don’t understand the holiday and just go back to what they learned about it as children (See “eight days of gifts”, above)
The gift connection with Christmas, though blown completely out of proportion in a material world, comes from the part of the Christmas story where the three Magi brought gifts to the Baby Jesus, but I’m probably not telling most of you anything new with that one. It makes sense though, right?
Magi & gifts —-> Baby Jesus
(I’m doing *all I can* to NOT insert a clip of Will Ferrell in “Talladega Nights” praying to Baby Jesus.) (Oh, what the hell. Here it is.)
Modern day Christians & gifts —-> Each other
As far as Hanukkah goes, the actual tradition was to give Hanukkah gelt (money) as a reward for learning about the teachings contained in the Torah, because when the Greeks (under King Antiochus) destroyed the Temple (to read more of the Hanukkah story, click here), it became necessary to reteach the children who came after that time, and it continued on from there. Over time, that tradition (incentives for education!) changed over for many people to a Christmas-style gift bonanza.
In my family, we do give gifts but on one or two nights in lieu of them, we go out to a movie, bowling or some other family activity that takes the emphasis off “getting stuff” and puts it on “spending time together”.
So, there you have it! And just for kicks, I’ve included a snippet from the “Saturday Night Live” sketch from the ’80’s, “Hanukkah Harry Saves Christmas”, which will demonstrate that, if nothing else, Jews are practical.
I’m glad you did this post- because I remember as a kid not knowing the true meaning behind it, etc.
and in a thought that I figured you’d be proud of me for having:
I saw a recipe online for latkes that were baked, not fried in oil.
So then I questioned it- what’s the point of making latkes for Hannukah if they aren’t fried. because the whole point of making latkes is to celebrate the magic of oil and the miracle that it provided light for 8 nights!
see, I’m catholic, and I knew that!
I figured you’d appreciate that. 😉 Plus, latkes are much better fried in oil, topped with sour cream.
Colleen - Mommy Always Wins
Like the true geek I am, I spent the better part of Sunday watching History Channel and learning that the “christian holiday” we call Christmas is a relatively recent creation. (Check this out.) It was the adding of the gift giving in there that made the religious part stick. This didn’t totally surprise me, but I still found it interesting nonetheless.
OK, I don’t really know where I’m going with all of this, but I hope your family has a wonderful Hannukah, and that you are blessed enough to spend time together!
i’ve been wanting to ask this question since you started, but i don’t want you to think i am being mean or snarky, ok?
“jew stuff” is that PC(not that i am realllly into the whole PC thing anyways)? or is that kindof like black ppl saying the n word? its ok for you to say it cuz your jewish, but it would be offensive if i said it?
just curious. and yes i said black not african american. i have decided that i dont call myself English American (cuz my ancestors came from england) who cares where your ancestors came from?? you are either american or black, white, latino, whatever. IMHO
Don Mills Diva
That skit is great!
I love your idea of doing things together instead of gifts. I wish I lived closer, because I would tag along!
We had a little Hanukkah lesson at dinner last night…
We’re still eating latkes…who knew that recipe would make quite so many…and yet, still yummy!!
Hiya, delurking to say thanks for the lesson on Judaism, there aren’t many Jew’s in New Zealand so its something I have wondered about. Hope your Hanukkah is a great celebration.
Oh My GOFF!
Gimme some GELT!
devilish southern belle
Hope you are enjoying your holidays! I always love reading about other religions, cultures, and how others celebrate their holidays. It’s so refreshing! Glad to see that you make your family take some time together, though. We all know how important that is!
QuJaBaKa: Thanks for delurking! I hope you have a Merry Christmas! 🙂
Angie: Ooh, I wish I had sent you some! 🙂 (you do mean the chocolate kind, right?)
DSB: Thanks! Yep, I figure we better spend quality time together while the kids are still around! 🙂
I was always mildly jealous of my Jewish friends growing up until I saw what they got for their 8 gifts. My gifts were always better and … it’s possible that I was spoiled and received wayyyyy more gifts than I should have. Part of the reason the wee ones get three (count ’em, three!) gifts for Christmas, just like Baby Jesus did.
So what are you doing for the boys this year?
How did I miss that SNL skit???