A Jewish Perspective: Taking the Christmas out of Hanukkah
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.Since we are strongly opposed to taking Christ out of Christmas, we strongly favor Jewish attempts to take Christmas out of Hanukkah.
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.
It’s simply a matter of religious integrity. Christmas is Christmas. Hanukkah is Hanukkah. Mushing both together into an orgy of commercialism called “the Holiday Season” is not only an attack on Christians, it’s an affront to Jews too.
The proper way to deal with “diversity” in American life is not to dilute everybody’s religious traditions to make each as widely acceptable as possible. It’s to recognize and honor diverse religious traditions in their undiluted form.
Thus a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree. A Hanukkah Menorah is a Hanukkah Menorah. Both have a place in the public square, and neither message has to be diluted by insisting that both must appear together, along with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.