Having a Happy Hanukkah


Anywhere from five to nine million Americans celebrate Hanukkah each year, and it is celebrated in many different ways. Sophomore Jane Biddle enjoys celebrating the holiday with her family. “While Hanukkah is very different from Christmas, there are some things that make them very similar. They are both times that you should be with loved ones and enjoying your time together.”


It seems that every year when we trash our “jack o’lanterns” on November first, we are immediately bombarded with commercials advertising Christmas sales for everything from candy to cars.  Christmas dominates consumer culture across America for most of November and December, and often those who don’t celebrate feel either force-fed a holiday they don’t celebrate or they are left out.

According to a Pew Research Center study, about ninety percent of the U.S. population celebrates Christmas, so the other thirty percent, most being non-christians, are forced to take part in the cultural craze of Christmas.  The most common holiday celebrated in December aside from Christmas is the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.  And according to the US Census bureau, upwards of seven million Americans celebrate Hanukkah, and it is regarded with similar importance among Jews as Christmas is among Christians.  

Christmas is considered “mainstream” in American culture, so many Jewish people grow up with it and know the Christmas tradition and story despite not celebrating the holiday.  

When interviewing several Jewish State High students, I found that every single one of them was able to recount the Christmas story and traditions with great detail, even though they don’t celebrate the holiday. I wanted to see what Christmas-celebrating students knew about Hanukkah.

When I interviewed five students who celebrated Christmas, only two of them could produce a specific fact about Hanukkah.  One knew that Hanukkah was the “Festival of Lights”, while the other knew that an important food to the tradition of the holiday were latkes, a potato pancake originating from European jewish tradition.

This is not a “War on Christmas”.  People should feel free to practice their Christmas traditions as openly as ever, but there should be a movement to become more aware of others who celebrate different holidays at the same time of year.  Like Christmas, Hanukkah is a holiday celebrated in many different ways, but still has its’ core traditions. Not many Gentiles are familiar with the traditions of Hanukkah, so a short lesson is long overdue.

The feast of Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire.

During Hanukkah, a Menorah is displayed with eight or nine candles. A candle is lit each night to symbolize the miracle of the Temple lantern, with only enough oil to burn for one night, but instead burned for eight.  Other traditions include eating fried foods such as latkes and doughnuts to again pay homage to the miracle of the Temple lamp.  Another Hanukkah tradition is the giving of the Hanukkah gelt to the children, which usually includes candy and small amounts of money.

Although there is still a general lack of attention to Hanukkah in American society, steps have been taken to make it more visible in the American public.  Large retailers have began selling Hanukkah card in abundance, and the White House began hosting Hanukkah celebrations during the Bush administration.  

While some steps have been taken to make room for Hanukkah and other holidays around Christmas, there is still much to be done to create a more open holiday experience for all Americans.