It’s that time of year again. Hanukkah begins Thursday night, December 7th, and Christmas, of course, is Monday the 25th. All too often, people lump the two together in the politically correct expression “happy holidays.” But the two holidays are very different. America is supposed to be a “melting pot,” but it’s more of a gumbo. We’re together on the same broth but keep our own shape.
One sad thing about each faith’s end-of-the-year holiday is that most Jews do not understand Christmas, and most Christians don’t get Hanukkah. But they should. After all, each faith believes that Jesus was a nice Jewish boy who went into his father’s business. The disagreement is about his father’s occupation.
As we are about to celebrate Chanukah and Christmas, it’s time for me to explain their differences to my fellow members of the Jewish nation and to my Christian friends (with tongue firmly in cheek).
#1 Christmas is on December 25th, the same day every year. The date is based on the secular solar-based calendar. Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev every year. But that date is tied to the Hebrew LUNAR calendar. The Jewish calendar date of the 25th of Kislev falls on a different day of the secular calendar every year.
Most Jews have no idea where Chanukkah falls on the secular calendar until a Gentile friend asks when Chanukah starts. Their question forces us to consult the calendar given to us by the local Jewish Funeral Home. For the funeral home, it’s a great marketing tool. When someone dies in one’s family, the phone number to call is always handy.
BTW, the Jews also celebrate December 25th. Why not? We have a paid day also. The Jewish tradition of Christmas Day starts with going to the movies. On the 25th, there are no lines at the theater box office for the theaters playing the hot winter blockbusters because the Christians can’t go because they are with family celebrating Christmas.
After the movie theater, we make our annual Christmas pilgrimage to get Chinese food, a traditional Jewish cuisine.
It’s 2023 in the secular calendar, 4721 in the Chinese calendar, and 5784 In the Jewish calendar. Archeologists and other scientists still haven’t figured out what the Jews ordered for Chinese take-out for the first 1063 years of our existence.
In the book of Genesis, we learn that the patriarch Abraham always kept his tent flaps open. Theologians will tell you that he kept them open because he wanted to welcome people, but that’s not true. He kept the flaps open so the Chinese food delivery guy saw that he was home.
2. There is only one way to spell Christmas. No one can decide how to spell Chanukah. The Oxford English Dictionary shows 24 different spellings for Hanukkah (Chanucha, Chanuchah, Hanuca, Hanucka, Chanuca, Chanukah, Chanucca, Chanuccah, Chanuka, Chanukah, Chanukka, Chanukkah, Hanucah, Hanucca, Hanuccah, Hanucha, Hanuckah, Hanuka, Hanukah, Hanukka, Hanukkah, Khanukah, Khanukka, and Khanukkah). I like to use many of them–even in the same post. The reason for the spelling differences is its actual name in Hebrew is חֲנֻכָּה, and Hebrew can be transliterated into English in many ways. We also like the spelling differences because it confuses the Gentiles.
3. Christmas is a major Christian holiday. Chanukah is NOT a major Jewish holiday. Chanukkah is only a big deal in America because Jewish parents wanted their kids to brag about getting gifts like their Christian buddies for eight nights. Hanukkah isn’t mentioned in the Torah. It was created by Rabbis. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but more significant holidays like Passover, Sukkot, and Rosh Hashana, for example, were designated by God. And God outranks the rabbis, which is a fact only some rabbis agree with.
Most Christians do not get upset if you wish them a Happy Hannukah, but many Jews and atheists get upset if someone wishes them a Merry Christmas.
“Happy Holidays” is a stupid PC term. Technically, it can refer to July 4th, Thanksgiving, Groundhog Day, or Satanic Revels. If you are Jewish and somebody wishes you a Merry Christmas, grow up! It’s the thought that counts, and who knows, maybe they will buy you a Christmas present.
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; therefore, everybody is off (unless one works at a movie theater or a Chinese restaurant).
5. Christians purchase and gift ugly sweaters for Christmas. Just as golf is the game of ugly pants, Christmas is the holiday of ugly sweaters. Jewish mothers and wives would never allow Jewish men to wear tacky sweaters like that in public. “Uch, you are not going out of the house wearing THAT!”
6. Christians get wonderful presents such as jewelry, perfume, and stereos. The traditional Jewish gift is Chanukah gelt–coins made from chocolate. Since the increase of type two diabetes and protests about childhood obesity, some have frowned on gelt-giving.
Sometimes Jewish kids feel left out because not all of the gifts are things they want…some days, they get practical presents such as pajamas, underwear, socks, shirts that make you itch when you put them on…or even scholarly Jewish books that they will ignore and put on their bookshelves unless it’s built into a Nintendo.
7. Chanukah is about a war, and Christmas is about “Peace on Earth.” 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 being forced to assimilate the Syrian-Greek Seleucid Empire. But with God’s help, we won the war against the Seleucid Empire, threw them out of Jerusalem, and cleaned up the Holy Temple.
Sadly, while Chanukah is about Jews fighting against forced assimilation, some ACLU Woke types would have us celebrate it by putting “menorahs’ into nativity scenes or putting Stars of David atop Christmas trees in the town square. This proves they have no understanding of the meaning of the holiday. Here’s a message to Gentiles who are trying too hard to be friendly and recognize a Jewish holiday. Remember the gumbo. You have a lovely holiday, and we hope you have a joyous holiday. But please don’t merge it with a holiday about fighting assimilation. It kind of defeats the purpose/. And by the way, they’re not Menorahs; they are Chanukiahs.
8. Christmas is a time of enormous pressure for husbands and boyfriends. Jewish men are relieved of that burden on Hanukah. Adults give each other cheap gifts just to teach the kids about gift-giving.
Chanukah is much better for guys dating the same girl for a long time than Christmas. Some Christian men give their girlfriends an engagement ring on Christmas. No self-respecting Jewish woman expects an engagement ring on Hannukah. They want to double-dip— jewelry on Hanukkah— and the diamond ring on a different day.
My father, of blessed memory, was a house painter. He used to get two wallets as a promotional gift from the store where he purchased his paint. Every year, my mother would gift wrap each of the wallets. My dad would give one to Mom, and Mom would give one to Dad. The real secret was that we knew what they were doing but didn’t say anything. Why ruin their Hanukkah surprise
9. Christmas brings enormous electric bills. There are lights around the outside of the house and the inside, lights on the tree, etc. Families create beautiful displays outside their houses, but putting them up can be dangerous. Oh, and you know those Christmas lights that go on sale after Christmas. Jews buy them for a holiday called Sukkot. For this holiday, we hang out in a Sukkah (like a hut) for eight days. Jews hang those Christmas lights we bought on sale in our Sukkahs to have light for the evening.
Hanukkah is more of a green holiday. No extra electricity, Just candles or oil. Not only are we spared enormous electric bills. The “greens” feel good about not contributing to climate change. By the way, Jews don’t give coal to the bad kids—We don’t hang stockings with coal; it might make a mess of the carpet, and the cleaning lady doesn’t come till next week.
10. Christmas carols are beautiful because the good ones were written by Jews, such as Silent Night, Come All Ye Faithful, etc. Most Jews are secretly pleased that many of the beautiful Christmas carols were composed by one of our tribal brethren. My favorite is White Christmas, written by Irving Berlin (born Isaac Bailen). “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” and “I’ll be home for Christmas” were also written by Jews. It’s a bit upsetting that Jews like Barbra Streisand and Christmas songs at concerts and TV specials, but not one Christian reciprocates with a Chanukah album. How come Nat King Cole never sang “Latkes frying in a frying pan?” Where is Dolly Parton’s “I’m Bringing Jelly Donuts Home for Chanukah?”
There aren’t many good Hanukkah songs. Why didn’t those Jewish songwriters write for their own people? Most Chanukkah songs are BO-ring!. They are about dreidels made from clay or having a party and dancing the hora. There are only two good ones. Adam Sandler’s Chanukah song tells us which celebrities are Jews, “When you feel like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree. Here’s a list of Jewish people, just like you and me. And my all-time favorite is by Tom Lehrer, “I’m spending Chanukkah in Santa Monica. Wearing sandals, Lighting candles by the sea.”
11. At home, the celebration of Christmas and Chanukah is much different. Both are loud, but they each have a different kind of loudness. During Hanukkah, even when the entire family is in the same house, they are only in the same room when they light the Chanukah. Otherwise, people are grouped by their household roles in different rooms. Generally, the adults are all talking at once, trying to talk over the others. Well, truth be told, adults are separated by gender. This is not a commandment but a preference. In a Jewish family, there are only two words that a husband is allowed to say in front of other people, “Yes, Dear.” Whenever my mother and her three sisters got together on Hanukkah (or any other time), they would sit at the kitchen table talking so loudly that I feared the neighbors would call the police. They weren’t fighting, but that’s what happens when four Jewish women from Brooklyn get together and talk.
The four husbands would follow the Jewish concept of “Shalom HaBayit,” peace in the household. In this case, it meant not interrupting their wives. Therefore, the men sat on chairs in the living room, arms crossed, heads tilted all the way back, and snoring away, increasing the decibel level. The kids would be hiding from their parents downstairs in the den. The TV would be on, with the sound all the way up to mask the sound coming from their parents.
It is also loud on Christmas, but it’s a different kind of loud. Their houses are filled with their families– grandkids, kids, adults, and even dogs. It gets deafening and chaotic on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Because the entire family celebrates together, generally not grouped by family roles. But they enjoy celebrating together. If they get bored, the teenagers can’t sneak away to see all the new films at the movies. The Jews have already purchased all the movie tickets.
12. After a holiday party, Christians go out for a drink, and Jews go out for food. After an office “holiday” party, many Christians will continue the party at a bar. The Jews will complain about the food at the party and then go to the local diner and complain about that food. It’s a tradition. Jews have been complaining about their food since biblical times. For example, in Chapter 11 of the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), the former slaves complained about not having meat or fish. They only had that manna stuff they got from God.
13. Christian parents never withhold Christmas gifts from their children. Jewish parents have no qualms about withholding a gift on any of the eight nights of Hannukah.
When they do withhold a gift, Jewish parents don’t blame a bearded guy in a red suit and a sleigh pulled by reindeer, putting them on a naughty list. Parents try to make their kids feel guilty when withholding gifts. “Great! Now I have to wait in a long line to return your Hanukkah gift!” By the way, a Catholic friend of mine claims they invented guilt. Even if that were true (it’s not), we Jews learned to market it much better.
By the way, when I was a child, I thought Santa was an anti-Semite because he skipped the Jewish homes.
14. The people in the Christmas story have names that are easy to pronounce and spell, such as Mary, Joseph, Jesus, etc. The names in the Chanukkah story include Antiochus, Seleucid, and Mattathias. You don’t believe me? Try saying King Antiochus three times fast.
On the plus side, even if we don’t know the names or can’t pronounce the names of the major players in the Chanukah story, it doesn’t matter when talking to non-Jews. We can tell our Gentile friends anything about Judaism, and they will believe us. Just as long as we throw in a few guttural “ch” sounds and fool them into believing we are wonderfully versed in Hebrew and Jewish history.
15. In recent years, Christmas has become more and more commercialized. The same holds true for Hannukah. But Hanukah is the only Jewish holiday that can be commercialized.
I was in advertising and marketing for over 30 years and never knew how to market a significant Jewish holiday. Take Yom Kippur, for example. Can you imagine a TV Ad?
A Cantor chants Kol Nidre in the background as an announcer roars:
, “Hey everybody…Come to synagogue and starve yourself for 27 hours. Become one with your dehydrated soul. Beat your chest while confessing to a list of every sin in the book. And don’t forget the caffeine withdrawal headache. It’s a guaranteed swell time for you and your family.”
16. Hanukah movies are more accessible to identify. Christians fight over which movies are Christmas movies. If you ever want to purposely start an argument among Gentiles, walk into a room full of Christians and ask, “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” Oh boy, it will get ugly.
The truth is Die Hard is a Hanukkah movie. Think about it —” Die Hard” is a story about a desperate insurgency against a vastly superior invading force, requiring the near-miraculous marshaling of limited resources. It’s a modern version of the Chanukah story.
So many movie plots occur during the Christmas season. Therefore, there is an excellent chance of disagreement about whether or not a particular film can be considered a Christmas Movie.
But with Hanukah movies, there is no grey area, perhaps because there are so few Hanukah movies besides “Eight Crazy Nights,” “The Hebrew Hammer,” “The Rugrats Hanukkah,” and, of course, “Die Hard.”
CODA. A few weeks ago, Ye (Kanye) West wanted to write a song about the Maccabees. However, one night, when Ye was sleeping, the ghost of Judah Maccabee visited him. He admonished Ye for being an anti-Semite and warned West he would be punished if he did the song without first having a bris. I heard the Jew-hating Ye was willing to have the bris but couldn’t find a Mohel willing to do such a tiny job.
Conclusion Chanukah and Christmas are different holidays with different meanings, but whichever one you celebrate…I wish you a joyous holiday surrounded by family and friends. May God fill the coming year with love, good health, peace, and more than a few laughs. After the past twelve months, we need it more than ever.