The first night of Hanukkah falls on Dec. 24 this year, which, for some Jewish kids, is a blessing. After all, it can be hard not to experience Christmas envy when so many of your buddies seem to be draped in twinkling lights, armed with bowls of chocolates and cookies, and gleefully anticipating a well-timed visit from a fat man in a red suit who brings more loot than the contents of a Costco warehouse.
Having Hanukkah coincide with Christmas Eve is meaningless at first blush, although if you spend the last quarter of every year watching what seems like everyone else in the world counting the days until "The Christmas Story" 24-hour marathon on TBS, it can make you feel like you're actually invited to the party for a change, instead of watching through the window from outside.
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For Jewish parents, though, having Hanukkah and Christmas collide can be a bit of a nightmare. While the birth of Jesus Christ is one of the most significant days on the calendar for many Christians, Hanukkah is not up there with Yom Kippur, Passover and Rosh Hashanah on the Jewish scale of importance. Not to diminish the bravery of Judah and the Maccabees, or the perfect specimen of food that are potato latkes, but the whole notion of eight presents over eight nights to celebrate the miracle of burning oil is a bit of a stretch. There's no question Hanukkah has been increasingly hyped over the years as some try to keep it on pace with Christmas—although the results are generally quite lame (if the Mensch on the Bench is the Jews' answer to the Elf on the Shelf, we just need to stop asking the question).
The birthday of one religion's lord and savior triumphs over a dreidel game that everyone both forgets how to play and then when they remember, stops after one round because getting a bikini wax is more fun.
So imagine this Jewish mother's eye rolling when I received an email with a subject line inviting me to learn how to make Hanukkah more exciting than Christmas for my children. Because if there's one thing we don't need right now, it's another war on Christmas, this one where the Jews take the first shot. Regardless, a very funny writer, Ilana Wiles, seems to be doing just that. Wiles' publicist pitched her latest book in an email, along with "tips to help Jewish parents convince their kids that Hanukkah has more razzle dazzle and excitement than Christmas."
Hanukkah is many things, including a time to ponder why gold-foil coated chocolate coins (known as gelt) bother to exist when eating broken glass would easily taste better. It's also a good moment for Jews to admit our part in the widespread massacre of bees: because lighting the menorah over eight nights requires 44 candles. That's a lot of beeswax.
What Hanukkah is not, however, is a holiday that should be pitted against Christmas. It's not a competition. Let's be honest—Christmas wins. The birthday of one religion's lord and savior triumphs over a dreidel game that everyone both forgets how to play and then when they remember, stops after one round because getting a bikini wax is more fun.
Or another idea is parents can do more to actually separate Hanukkah from Christmas.
Still, in the pitch, Wiles advocates for the Mensch on the Bench. She also implies parents aren't playing up the eight days of gifts enough ("Get your kids hyped about receiving a daily gift during the eight days of Hanukkah."). And Wiles argues dreidel needs to be more hyped up, Vegas-style. She suggests parents make dreidel into a gambling game with candy (so .... teaching kids to play it as if they're at the craps table in the Bellagio).
Or another idea is parents can do more to actually separate Hanukkah from Christmas. It's not so easy with small kids who might feel left out of the decorations strewn in most stores, restaurants and commercials, and music catering specifically to non-Jews. Instead of a gift each night, though, they can place even less emphasis on gifts overall and make a family decision about where to send a donation on one night. And they can gather with family and friends for celebratory dinners or go to their local synagogues for special celebrations. Even though Hanukkah isn't the most religious of Jewish holidays, it's still one that's can be plenty of fun to celebrate.
Hanukkah will never be Christmas and, while the holidays may overlap this year, it's still not an excuse to try to make the lesser one more of a bigger thing. That is, unless this advent calendar with gin (the Ginvent calendar) can somehow be folded into the Jewish tradition.
Because liquid courage will help parents of any religion get through December.