Over the years, Christmas has mutated from its humble beginnings as a birthday celebration into an overblown, commercialized party. While the holiday may still be religiously significant, the general consensus is that Christmas can be measured in bucket loads of presents.
As a Jew who has never fully taken part in any Christmas festivities, I can only watch this holy day from afar and admire all that it has become. The fact that a single occasion is so widely acknowledged is a real accomplishment, and I only wish that someday the Jewish “equivalent” Hanukkah will reach that same level of recognition.
Hanukkah’s lack of widespread exposure is partly what makes the holiday special. With no mall Santas to take pictures with and no trees to decorate, we Jews have more time to focus on what our holiday is really about, and therein lies its wonder.
Few know the true meaning behind Hanukkah, or as it is otherwise known, the Festival of Lights. Thousands of years ago, the Jewish people returned to the Temple in Jerusalem after successfully rebelling against their conquerors. Upon arriving back in Jerusalem, they found their temple in shambles, destroyed and left for nothing.
In an attempt to rededicate the temple, the Jews wanted to relight the Everlasting Flame– a constantly-burning light that commemorates an everlasting love and loyalty to G-d. After a search for fuel by which to ignite the flame, they could only find a small jar of oil, holding only enough oil to last for a day.
However, miraculously, after lighting the little oil they had, the fuel kept burning and burning and burning. That one small jar ended up burning for an unimaginable eight days. By the time the oil ran out, they had replenished their supply.
Hanukkah actually commemorates the miracle that one day’s worth of oil burned for eight days, providing the first Jewish people with the light they used to reestablish their faith.
This sacred fuel burned in a candelabra, or a menorah, that has now symbolizes Hanukkah itself. Each of the eight nights, a candle is lit in the memory of every day that this miraculous oil burned.
Another way Hanukkah is typically represented is through the driedel, or four-sided top. Each side displays a Hebrew letter and when put together, the letters mean “a great miracle happened there”, a further reference to the oil.
Hanukkah may not be the most important Jewish holiday, but it is the most well-known, bar none. Even as a young Jewish boy, I was constantly harassed on the jungle gym by other kids about this so called “Jewish Christmas.”
The fact is, Hanukkah is nothing like Christmas. Christmas is in memory of a day that set the foundation for an entire religion, and Hanukkah is all about the miracle of the extended lifespan of oil in a jar. The two are not moderately similar, yet they are frequently compared and grouped together.
Even though I may never have personally celebrated Christmas, I know it’s wrong for a holiday that special to be treated any less sacred. Even though it’s not my holiday, I know that December 25 needs to be given more respect than it is now.
Having said that, Hanukkah can’t be forgotten. No, it’s not Moses’ birthday, or even anything close for that matter, but it’s just as important nonetheless, and it’s time that people started giving it the same appreciation they do every other holiday.