Most Jews do not understand Christmas…and most Christians don’t get Hanukkah… Since Hanukkah starts tonight, I thought it is time to explain. From now on if anyone asks you what the difference is between Christmas and Chanukah you will know what and how to answer!
1. Christmas is one day, same day every year, December 25. Jews also celebrate December 25th…it’s a paid day off work. We go to movies (there are no lines) and then go out for Chinese food (a traditional Jewish food). Chanukah is 8 days. It starts the evening of the 24th of Kislev, whenever that falls. Most Jews never know when that day falls until a non-Jewish friend asks when Chanukah starts, forcing us to consult a calendar provided free from the kosher butcher, or the local Jewish Funeral Home.
2. Christmas is a major Christian holiday. Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday. It isn’t mentioned in the Tanach (Jewish scriptures). In fact the books of Maccabees isn’t part of the Jewish canon but it is party of the Christian bible. Chanukkah does have the same them as most other Jewish holidays, They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.
3. Christians get wonderful presents such as jewelry, perfume, stereos. The traditional Jewish gift is Chanukah Gelt (coins made from chocolate). Since the increase of type two diabetes and the protests about childhood obesity, many Jewish kids are feeling left out because they aren’t getting good stuff like their Christian friends, here in America Jewish kids get eight days of presents. Not all of the presents are stuff they want…some days they get practical presents such as pajamas, underwear, socks, and a scholarly Jewish books (which look great on their book shelves).
4. There is only one way to spell Christmas. No one can decide how to spell Chanukah, Chanukkah, Chanukka, Channukah, Hanukah, Hannukah, etc. I like to use them all–even in the same post.
5. Christmas is a time of great pressure for husbands and boyfriends. Their partners expect special gifts. Jewish men are relieved of that burden on Hanukah. Adults give each other cheap gifts just to teach the kids gift giving. My father was a painter. He used to get two wallets as gifts from the store he used to purchase supplies from. Every year my mother would wrap up the wallets, my dad would give one to mom and mom would give one to dad (we knew what they were doing but didn’t say anything). Even better, for guys dating the same girl for a long time, Chanukah is much better… no Jewish woman expects a diamond ring on Hannukah, no they want Jewelry on Hanukkah and the diamond ring another day.
6. Christmas brings enormous electric bills-lights around the outside of the house..the inside, on the tree..etc. Trees are sometimes lined with popcorn on a string. Hanukkah is a green holiday, it uses candles. Not only are we spared enormous electric bills, but we get to feel good about not contributing to the energy crisis. We don’t give coal to the bad kids, it might make a mess of the carpet and the cleaning girl doesn’t come till next week. And as for the popcorn and candy canes on trees; waste food, are you kidding? There are children starving in Africa.
7. Christmas carols are beautiful…Silent Night, Come All Ye Faithful…. Of course, we are secretly pleased that many of the beautiful carols were composed and written by our tribal brethren, like White Christmas written by Irving (Isaac) Berlin. And doesn’t Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond sing them beautifully? Most Chanukkah songs are about dreidels made from clay or having a party and dancing the hora. God-forbid a famous Jewish pop singer record some Hanukkah song. But we do have Adam Sandler playing Jewish geography.
8. A home preparing for Christmas smells wonderful. The sweet smell of cookies and cakes baking. Happy people are gathered around in festive moods. A home preparing for Chanukah smells of oil, potatoes, and onions. During Hanukkah as well as every time Jews get together, every Jewish home is supposed to be full of loud people all talking at once.
9. Christian women have fun baking Christmas cookies. Jewish women burn their eyes and cut their hands grating potatoes and onions for latkas (potato pancakes) on Chanukah. It’s another reminder of the suffering of our people through the ages, and another opportunity for Jewish mother to radiate guilt “You see what’s happening to me…and just for you?”
10. Parents never withhold gifts to their children during Christmas. Jewish parents have no qualms about withholding a gift on any of the eight nights Hannukah.
11. The players in the Christmas story have easy to pronounce and spell names such as Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. The names in the Chanukka story are Antiochus , Judah Maccabee, and Matta whatever. By the way the Maccabee’s last name was not Maccabee, the word means hammer and is an anagram for a Hebrew phrase, “Who is like you oh Lord.” It doesn’t really matter what their names are, no one can spell it or pronounce them anyway. On the plus side, we can tell our Gentile friends anything with a lot of guttural cchh sounds and they will believe we are wonderfully versed in Jewish history.
12. In recent years, Christmas has become more and more commercialized. The same holds true for Hannukah, even though it is a minor holiday. But it kind of makes sense. I have been in marketing for over 30 years and still haven’t figured out how to market a major holiday such as Yom Kippur. No food…music is somber…. “Hey everybody…Come to synagogue, starve yourself for 27 hours, become one with your dehydrated soul, beat your chest, confess your sins, a guaranteed good time for you and your family.”
Chanukah Starts at Sundown Wednesday, Nov. 27 almost a month before Christmas.
Whichever one you celebrate…I wish you all a joyous holiday surrounded family and friends. And may the coming year be filled with love and good health.