Chanukah Has Tradition & Celebration … But It’s Not “Jewish Christmas”

Sundown December 12th marks the beginning of Eight Crazy Nights or as we call it, Chanukah. 

For those who might not know, Chanukah is a Jewish holiday in which we remember when the Macabees fought against persecution from the Greeks, and after the battle was over, the Jewish people had to rebuild the second temple. The Jewish people discovered the oil needed to light the menorah was only supposed to last one day, but instead lasted eight!

Now, Jewish people all over the world light the Hanukiah which has eight branches – plus an extra candle holder for the shamash, the helper candle. Other Chanukah traditions include eating latkes {potato pancakes} and sufganiyot {jelly doughnuts} because they are both fried in oil. Children, and adults too, play dreidel. The dreidel {a spinning top} has four Hebrew letters representing the saying, Nes Gadol Haya Sham — A great miracle happened there.  But here’s the thing…

Chanukah is NOT a “Jewish Christmas.”

It is a religious celebration with its own traditions and customs. Being a minority in a predominately Christian world, and more specifically, a Christian state, my children are well aware of how and why we celebrate Chanukah. They also know why we do not celebrate Christmas. 

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a beautiful holiday filled with its own traditions. I love looking at all the stunning Christmas lights and gorgeous Christmas trees in our community. I enjoy hearing all the funny stories about the Elf on the Shelf and children leaving cookies out for Santa. As Jews, we do not believe Jesus is the son of God, so to celebrate Christmas {or use any of its traditions in my own home} seems disrespectful. I have numerous Jewish friends who have transformed Christmas traditions into Chanukah traditions, and while I pass no judgement, I myself do not fully understand the why behind it.

To buy a Christmas tree and hang blue lights on it does not make it a Chanukah bush. If I were to do this it says to my children, Here is a beautiful tradition celebrating Jesus’s birthday … and because you might feel different this time of year, I am going to take this tradition and make it Jewish.

To hang lights outside my house says the same thing. Yes, Chanukah is called the Festival of Lights, but the light is supposed to come from the Hanukiah, not from tiny bulbs on the outside of our home. Sure, I can use blue lights, but why would I do this? It is a tradition for Christmas. And again, we do not celebrate Christmas. Have my children ever asked for lights? Yes. Did they ask more than once? No. When I can say, “We are Jewish. We do not celebrate Christmas, and we will not put lights on our home. BUT we can drive around and look at all our friends’ homes,” they have a definitive answer. I am not wishy-washy. I do not feel sorry for my kids because they are Jewish. I do not want them to have self pity due to their religion. We are proud to be Jewish. And on a side note, I wish my childhood was half as incredible as theirs. They have an amazing life.

To buy the Mensch on the Bench seems annoying, and it is a copy of the Elf on the Shelf. Again, why is this necessary? Why does Chanukah need to resemble Christmas? Why do we need to steal traditions and make them our own? What message are we sending our Jewish children? Chanukah and Christmas celebrate two totally different things. Why can’t we, as Jews, teach our children to embrace their own holiday’s traditions while simultaneously respecting another? Why is it even a comparison? Yes, both holidays are in December, but Passover and Easter are always around the same time … and I don’t see any Jews putting the Easter bunny at their Seder table. 

I often wonder why Jewish families would want a Christmas tree, lights on their home, and even a mensch? Because they are pretty? I have plenty of gorgeous Chanukah decorations. My home is festively decorated, and my girls are eagerly awaiting the holiday. I would venture to guess at some point, these Christian traditions became a part of “Secular Christmas” or “America’s Christmas” which is an ideology that I do not believe in. Christmas will always, and should always, be the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. He is an integral part of the Christian faith and the holiday should be honored as such.

And guess what… Chanukah traditions are unique and special.

Why don’t we see any Christians adding latkes or hanukiahs or Jewish stars to their home? The answer … because Chanukah and Christmas do not celebrate the same thing. The holidays are each unique as are the customs. And as much as we do not want to admit it, Christians do not feel the pressure to assimilate the way Jews feel burdened to be “the same.” This is the true reason Jewish people have made Christian traditions their own. They want to be the same. They want their kids to be the same. And while I fully recognize, appreciate, and have empathy towards anyone that may feel different and internalize it negatively … I will not teach my children to become a victim of being different. Maybe if we spent more time honoring differences vs squashing them, we could all feel comfortable in our own faiths.

I don’t hate Christmas. I really, truly LOVE it. The time of year is happy, and the season of giving warms my heart. I enjoy watching my Christian friends and their children celebrate their holiday. And guess what? My Christian friends are the first to Like, Love, and Wow all my Chanukah Facebook pictures. They are the first to wish my kids a Happy Chanukah when they see them riding bikes. Their Christian teachers, in their Texas public school, wish them a Happy Chanukah. 

I have never met a non-Jew who thought it was weird that we did not have a Chanukah bush, lights on our home, or the Mensch on the Bench. I have, however, met plenty of Jewish people who think I am raising close minded Jewish children by celebrating Chanukah the “old fashioned way.”

And evidently, it’s not just me who feels this way! Check out this hilarious video featuring Mayim Bialik…

 Do you celebrate Chanukah? Do you incorporate some elements of Christmas into your celebrations or have purely Jewish traditions?  I’d love to know your thoughts too!
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Michele is a native Houstonian and loves everything Texas, including the Longhorns. She and her husband were married in January 2002 and are parents to the most wonderful girls, Penelope {August 2008} and Pandora {August 2011}. A former educator, Michele is passionate about education and student learning. She spends most of her days volunteering at her daughters' schools and tutoring neighborhood children in reading. Michele loves her big family and enjoys traveling to see all her relatives as well as being the fun aunt to her nieces and nephews. Her daily goal is to laugh each day and enjoy the moments. Becoming a mom was the greatest gift for Michele, and she treasures it all, even the tantrums. You can read more about Michele, her life, and her parenting adventures on her personal blog The Adventures of Tomboys in Tiaras.

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