Most folks seem to think Chanukah is the Jewish Christmas. It is not. Christmas is the Jewish Christmas (I'll get to that). But I can understand the confusion. It probably has something to do with the fact that both Chanukah and Christmas involve the sacred ritual of gift giving and take place in mitten weather, and maybe with the fact that the White House simultaneously displays a giant twinkling tree and menorah on its lawn (so much for that separation of church and state thing, huh?).
I'm not saying every gentile puts the ass in assumption by assuming Chanukah is equivalent in importance to the day Christ-your-savior was born. But, yeah, most seem to think Chanukah is THE big holiday, like the holiest day of the year or something. Like every winter, we Jews waste all our time and money and energy decorating our indoors and outdoors with Magen Davids, and purchasing presents like flat irons and Life is Beautiful DVDs for our loved ones, and praying to God--the mother of your cannibalistic, zombie messiah--for everlasting dreidels and latkes and gelt.
Chanukah is, like, the minorest of minor holidays--arguably, even more minor than Lag B'omer, which is basically a Guy Fawkes-like bonfire day minus the revolutionary explosives and plus some Talmudic interpretation. Chanukah is not even part of the Torah (or as you goy like to malign it, the "Old Testament"), and most families don't even do a synagogue visit for this one, which is a rarity in a religion that, yes, has a prayer for the washing of hands and another for the eating of fruit and yet another for the building of a protective railing around one's roof.
Chanukah is a blip, a nothing, a commemoration of frugality and survival, neither of which are anomalies to Members of the Tribe.
But more shiksas get touchy feely about Chanukah than even acknowledge the existence of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) or Yom Kippur (when we all fast and abstain from sex and bathing and wearing leather, and feel guiltier than usual; kind of like being super-Semitic vegan for a day). During the High Holidays, a friend or two will ask why my apartment is stocked with apples and honey when I almost never eat fresh fruit, or why I'm taking so many damn days off when they're not even part of a long weekend. But rarely will someone express genuine interest in the holiday's origin or where I'm planning to spend it and with whom. When Chanukah hits, though, everyone is suddenly, "What are you Chanukah plans?" and "What are your family's Chanukah traditions?" People assume I'll roadtrip home for Chanukah, that I even know when it falls on the calendar. They assume that I'll be offended at being wished a "Merry Christmas" and make certain to single out me--their little Jewish friend--with a boisterous "And to you, a happy Chanukah!"
That's sweet, but dude, don't wish me a "Happy Chanukah." Because as much as I love the smell of melting menorah wax, and the deep burn of a perfectly greased, artery clogging latke, Chanukah is no big deal. I mean, walk around my super Jewy hometown neighborhood (about 20 synagogues, tons of kosher eateries, three Jewish day schools and a Whole Foods that regularly stocks noodle kugel and matzah balls), and you'd barely get a quarter the "Chag Sameachs" for Chanukah you'd receive on any weekly Shabbat afternoon. Yep, Chanukah is no big deal. The big deal at this time of year is none other than Christmas. And though I may not celebrate Christmas the way you do, I celebrate it all the same.
Just, y'know, differently. The way we Jews do.
There is a thing called Jewish Christmas that you may think is a myth, a stereotype, a legend, but it is not. Jews freaking love Christmas. It's the day we don't have to go into work and don't have obligations to eat fruitcake at the inlaws' in Ohio. It's the day we get to sleep in and take over for gentile volunteers in the soup kitchens and nursing homes. It is the day we run into our entire shul congregation at the Chinese restaurant and spoil the ending of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to the extended Bernstein family, who is slurping shrimp in lobster sauce and pork fried rice in the booth across the crowded room. It's the day we toast umbrella-ed Mai Tais with our lapsed Catholic boyfriends, and wish each other the merriest of Christmases while singing along to season one of Flight of the Conchords.
Christmas is the season we get to gain seven pounds from co-workers' gingerbread cookies, and pick up electronics and cashmere in post-holiday sales. It's the season when all the great movies are on network TV. It's the season cashiers at the Gap are even friendlier than usual, if only because they want to sell us another striped scarf. It's the season of eggnog lattes and candy cane ice cream. It's the season we get to see all our old friends who are also using their time off to visit their childhood homes and all those bars we used to dream of getting trashed at as high school kids.
Christmas is great. It's not that I want to celebrate it the way the Christians do. I've no desire to decorate a tree or attend a midnight mass or accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior or anything like that. But I love the crowded movie theaters, the community meet n' greets at the local lo mein holes, the cheerful co-workers, the sales, the smells. Chanukah has its joys, don't get me wrong, but as a whole the holiday is pretty insignificant compared to vegetable dumplings, a Marley & Me matinee and 65-percent off that cast iron pan I've been eyeing.
So, please, forget that "Happy Chanukah" schlock and wish me a Merry Jewish Christmas instead. Your Christmas may be over, but my Christmas season lasts as long as the leftovers, the discounts and the fond memories of being completely relaxed amongst all your holiday stress.
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PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide