The “Christmas-ization” of Hanukkah

November 17, 2022
Julia Schwartz-Manne

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Class of 2025

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Well, time to turn on ”All I Want for Christmas is You”, and start decorating the tree. Halloween is over, which means it’s time for society to start counting down the days until Christmas. In between today and December 25th, our favourite TV shows will release Christmas episodes, our teachers will ask us about our Christmas plans, stores will have Christmas sales, we’ll hear Christmas music everywhere we go, and our neighbourhoods will be illuminated with Christmas lights. Based on your circumstance, you might be completely surrounded by Jewish people, or maybe you’re the only Jewish family in your neighbourhood, but either way, most Jewish people have experienced some sort of situation where we feel alienated because we don’t celebrate Christmas. In Canada, Christians make up just over half of the population, and in bigger, more diverse cities like where I live, in Toronto, that number is even smaller. Then why did my music class last year go into classrooms throughout the school and perform Christmas carols that only made half of the people listening feel proud of their religion? Why did my music teacher expect my whole class to know the Christmas carols off by heart in the first place? 

In the 1800s, Christmas was observed only with a day off of work and school, and wasn’t correlated with any specific traditions. This all changed with the release of the book “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, which emphasized graciousness and goodness towards everyone. This identified the Christian need to have a holiday that was all about family love. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, all of the Christmas traditions that we see today were created by Americans. Since then, we have seen the holiday become mainly about capitalism, with gift giving, the Hallmark movie industry, Christmas ads and more, becoming traditional for the holiday. Not only has this made Christian people forget about the values that their holiday is based on, it has bled into other cultures and made us forget some aspects of our holidays entirely. Just the other day I opened TikTok to find a video of a Jewish family putting up a “Hanukkah tree” and blue and white Hanukkah stockings above their fireplace. In almost all of the countries in the Jewish diaspora, especially in areas of countries with fewer Jewish people, we have taken on traditions that were created in the 19th century meant to bring Christian families together. However, in doing this we have cast aside traditions that were created centuries before the Christian ones, traditions that were created to bring Jewish families closer together. When was the last time you gathered in a circle and played Spin the Dreidel? For some of us, maybe never.

Whether or not your Hanukkah traditions are similar to Christmas ones, this problem gives us the opportunity to learn more about our religion. If you can, talk to your parents or grandparents about how they celebrated Hanukkah at our age. Before the introduction of social media and phones, the “Christmas-ization” of Hanukkah looked very different, so they probably observed traditions that you no longer observe. Researching Hanukkah traditions is also a great way to learn more about Judaism. Using the information you find, you can reintroduce a tradition that lost practice due to the Holocaust to your family. Or a tradition from across the world. The list goes on. There are so many parts of our religion that we don’t know about but there are so many ways to learn about them. So this Hanukkah season, let’s take the time to learn more about our religion.

Julia Schwartz-Manne is a BBG living in Toronto, Canada, and has a wide range of interests, including cooking, various arts, Jewish and Hebrew studies, swimming and writing, which she loves to pursue.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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