Taking the Christmas out of Hanukkah

As American Jews, we face the challenge of preserving the Jewish ideals of Hanukkah in the midst of a commercialized Christmas-oriented society.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life! Media.

Almost every year, Hanukkah falls very near to Christmas, which always leads to feel-good articles and sermons about the similarities in spirit between Judaism and Christianity. Interfaith families, especially those with children, will celebrate both as a way of bringing their families together. And the marketing, sales, and merchandising will further solidify the linking of these two holidays in the American popular consciousness.

The American Jewish community, a mere 2.7 percent of the U.S. population, has watched with amusement as our minor festival has increasingly been elevated to near-equal status as Christmas. We have seen this trend as a validation of not only our buying power, but of our political and social standing in society. As generation after generation of American Jews watched America convince itself of our growing social importance, however, we failed to understand the dangers inherent in our tacit approval of the Christmasification of Hanukkah.

For the sake of both Judaism and Christianity, American Jews must draw a line in the spiritual snow. The danger to both Judaism and Christianity comes from the rabid materialism of the United States, where the commercialization of our winter holidays has transformed and bastardized both.

Unlike many religious Christians who have thrown their hands up and accepted that the growing commercialization is inevitable, Jews know that a small group of zealots with a worthy mission can miraculously overcome great odds. This is, after all, what the Hanukkah story is about.

Now Disney has launched Mickey Mouse dreidels and Winnie the Pooh Hanukkah menorahs. My first reaction is to roll my eyes and point to this as evidence that American Judaism is going down the tubes. But upon further reflection, there may be a brighter side to all the public recognition that Hanukkah is receiving. If we can embrace the image of Mickey spinning the dreidel without spending hundreds of dollars on Disney gifts, perhaps we can truly balance the normalization of public Judaism with our own meaningful values.

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Yosef I. Abramowitz

Yosef Israel Abramowitz is a writer and serial social entrepreneur in the Jewish and social justice realms. He is the co-founder of Jewish Family & Life! and he has produced much of the content for BabagaNewz, JVibe, JBooks, SocialAction.com, and Sh'ma.