2016 is one of those rare years where Christmas and Chanukah begin at the same time. The evening of December 24th is not only Christmas Eve. but it’s also the first night of Hanukkah.
America is supposed to be a “melting pot,” however a sad thing about the end of the year holidays is that most Jews do not understand Christmas…and most Christians don’t get Hanukkah. Since both holidays begin in less than two weeks, as a public service it’s time for me to explain the difference between the two (in the usual Lidblog snarky way, Below are 18 difference between Christmas and Chankuah, all of it true (IMHO) some of it snarky. Why 18? Because in Hebrew the number 18 is represented by the same letters that spell out Chai—life.
1. Christmas is one day, same day every year, December 25 based on the secular solar-based calendar. Hanukkah is tied the Hebrew LUNAR calendar, it begins on the 25th of Kislev every year. However, the 25th of Kislev falls out on a different day of the secular calendar every year.Most Jews never know when that day falls on the secular calendar until a non-Jewish friend asks when Chanukah starts. That question forces us to consult a calendar provided free from the Kosher butcher or the local Jewish Funeral Home BTW the Jews also celebrate December 25th. Why not….it’s a paid day off from work. So we go to movies (there are no lines because the Gentiles are doing something else). After the movies we make our annual Christmas pilgrimage to get Chinese food (a traditional Jewish food). Interestingly 2016 in the secular calendar is 4713 in the Chinese calendar and 5777 in the Jewish Calendar. No one knows how Jews ordered take-out for the first 1064 years of their existence.
2. 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.
3. Christmas is a major Christian holiday. Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday. Hanukkah isn’t mentioned in the Torah, it was created by Rabbis. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but bigger holidays like Passover Sukkot, and Rosh Hashana for example ,were designated by God. And God outranks the rabbis ( a fact that some rabbis agree with). Chanukkah is only a big deal in America because Jewish parents wanted their kids to be able to brag about getting gifts also. But that is a fabrication of Jews in America.
As a matter of fact, the books of Maccabees which tells the Chanukkah story aren’t even part of the Jewish canon, there are many suggested explanations for this, the best of which (IMHO) is politics. The Maccabees broke tradition and took over the offices of King and high Priest, breaking a tradition that was set during the exodus from Egypt when God designated Moses as political leader and the line of his brother Aaron held the priesthood. When a monarchy was finally established it went to the house of David, and Aaron’s descendants remained the priests . Before you liberals start claiming biblical proof of separation of church and state, the reason for the biblical separation wasn’t a fear of religious influence on govt., but the possibility of a corrupt government’s influence on religion –which is exactly what happened with the Maccabee family (their real surname was Hasmonean, but more on that later).
God knew that governments could become corrupt and since there were no bloggers in biblical times to watch over the government, the plan was for an incorruptible Priesthood who were supposed to keep the politicians in line. There were some believed that the Maccabees breach of tradition led destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem and exile of the Jews. When the canonical books were selected about 250 years after the Maccabee victory, and about 70 years after the destruction of the Temple and exile, feelings were still very raw and the Maccabees were booted. Feelings have calmed down but since there are no ancient copies in Hebrew (only Greek translations), the books cannot be added back into cannon.
4 . Christians (and Jews) Don’t work on Christmas, Regular work schedules apply to Hanukah. Christmas is also a national holiday in the United States everybody is off. Because as Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday, work is permitted. Here’s a little secret for the Gentiles, if a Jewish employee tells you he/she has to take off for Chankkah (or Purim for that matter) they are full of Shi, I mean full of latkes.
5. Christians purchase and gift ugly sweaters for Christmas. Just like golf is the game of ugly pants, Christmas is the holiday of ugly sweaters. Jewish mothers and wives would never let us wear tacky sweaters like that in public. “Uch you are not going out of the house wearing THAT!”
6. Most Christians do not get upset if you wish them a Happy Hannukah, but many Jews get upset if you wish them a Merry Christmas. “Happy Holidays” is a stupid PC term. Technically it can refer to July 4th or a Satanic holiday. If you are not Christian and somebody wishes you a Merry Christmas, grow up! It’s the thought that counts (and heck who knows maybe they will buy you a present).
7. 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. But 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, shirts that make you itch when you put them on…and scholarly Jewish books (which look great on their book shelves).
8. Christmas is about “Peace on Earth,” Chanukah is about war. Peace on Earth is a big theme of Christmas. Everybody –even non-Christians know this. It says it in almost all the Christmas carols. Chanukah is about a civil war against assimilation. The real Chanukkah story is not just a war against the Syrian-Greeks, it’s about a civil war amongst the Jews. Judah Maccabee and the boys were fighting other Jews who had turned away from their faith by combining it with Greek/Hellenistic practices. The resulting assimilation caused a loss of Jewish faith and tradition, and eventually laws against practicing Jewish ritual. Sadly while Chanukah is a holiday about Jews fighting against assimilation, some ACLU-progressive-liberal types would have us celebrate it by assimilating “Menorahs” in nativity scenes, or putting trees in their homes have no understanding of the meaning of the holiday. A message to my Gentile friends, you have a nice holiday enjoy it–but don’t make my holiday about assimilation.
9. Black Friday sales. Christmas Black Friday sales go on till midnight. Hanukah Black Friday sales end at least an hour before sunset so Jewish shoppers can get home for Shabbos dinner. Another holiday shopping difference on Black Friday, indeed during the entire holiday season…Christians pay whatever the price tag reads. In Jewish theology paying the marked retail price is a mortal sin.
10. 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 about 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).And for guys dating the same girl for a long time, Chanukah is much better, no self-respecting Jewish woman expects a diamond ring on Hannukah no, they want to “double-dip,” jewelry on Hanukkah— and the diamond ring another day.
11. 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 or oil. 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 lady 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.
12. Christmas carols are beautiful and written by Jews..Silent Night, Come All Ye Faithful, etc. Most Jews are secretly pleased that many of the beautiful carols were composed and written by one of our tribal brethren, my favorite is White Christmas written by Irving (Isaac) Berlin. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” and “I’ll be home for Christmas” were written by Jews also. And be honest don’t Jews like Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond sing those Christmas songs beautifully? What I have an issue with is what the heck did these Jewish songwriters write for their own people? BO-ring! Most Chanukkah songs are about dreidels made from clay or having a party and dancing the hora. And God-forbid a famous Jewish pop singer record some Hanukkah song. All we have is Adam Sandler playing Jewish geography.
13. 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. To remember the miracle of the one day of oil that lasted for eight days we eat oily foods, potato latkes, greasy jelly donuts, etc. Also during Hanukkah (as well as every time Jews get together) Jewish homes are supposed to be full of loud people all talking at once.
14. Christian women have fun baking Christmas cookies. On Chanukah, Jewish women burn their eyes and cut their hands grating potatoes and onions and then fry them in deep grease to make latkas (potato pancakes) 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?”
15. 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, and they don’t blame a fat bearded guy in a red suit and a sleigh pulled by reindeer either. Jewish parents take credit for their children’s suffering just to remind them who is boss, “That’s it I am returning your Chanukah toys!” They will also find a way to make the kids feel guilty about it. “Great! Now I have to wait on a long line to return you Hanukkah gift!” Remember the Catholics may have invented guilt, but we Jews learned to market it much better.
16. 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, it was Hasmonean. Maccabee is a nickname meaning hammer and is an anagram for a Hebrew phrase, “Who is like you oh Lord.” But in the end doesn’t really matter what their names are, no one can spell it or pronounce them anyway. On the plus side even if we don’t know the names of the players in the Chanukah story it doesn’t matter. Everyone knows we can tell our Gentile friends anything with a lot of guttural cchh sounds and they will believe we are wonderfully versed in Hebrew and Jewish history.
17. 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 was in marketing for over 30 years and never figured out how to market a major holiday such as Yom Kippur. Can you imagine the TV Ad.. 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 swell time for you and your family.”
18. Chanukah and Christmas are totally different holidays with totally different meanings but whichever one you celebrate…I wish you all a joyous holiday surrounded family and friends. And may God fill the coming year with love, good health, and peace.