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Hanukkah: Not Christmas for Jews

While the two holidays fall in close proximity to each other and are celebrated in popular culture together, Hanukkah does not hold the religious significance for Jews that Christmas holds for Christians.

Each year, Hanukkah falls in close proximity or during Christmas according to the Hebrew calendar. Because of that, the two are celebrated side by side under the “Happy Holidays” moniker.

But in terms of religious significance, Hanukkah doesn’t rank as high for Jews as Christmas ranks for Christians.

“It’s hard to not make a big deal of out Hanukkah living in America, and I’m not sure it’s a bad thing,” said Rabbi Rhoda Silverman of Temple Emanuel in Reisterstown. “That’s not a problem for me as long as we don’t forget about everything else that makes us Jewish.”

Jonathan Schwartz, senior aide to Baltimore County Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond and a member of Temple Emanuel, sees Hanukkah as having two roles in the lives of American Jews – religious and cultural.

“Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are definitely more important holidays from a religious point-of-view,” he said, referring to the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, respectively. “[Hanukkah’s] taken on a role in our culture, our Jewish American culture, that is bigger than it is in our religious culture.”

So what exactly is Hanukkah all about? On each of Hanukkah’s eight nights, Jewish families around the world light the hanukkiyah, a nine-branched candelabrum also known as the Hanukkah menorah. It commemorates the miracle of the oil.

When the Temple in Jerusalem was re-dedicated in 165 BCE, after the Jews had gotten control of their land and temple back from the Seleucid Empire of Syria, they had only enough oil to light their seven-branched menorah for one day, but it miraculously lasted eight days. Thus, Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday, which falls from sundown on Dec. 8 to sunset on Dec. 16 this year.

Other common traditions include eating oil-rich foods like donuts or potato latkes, which are fried potato pancakes.

While Rabbi Silverman and Schwartz both give their children gifts on Hanukkah, they make sure that the holiday is put in context. Schwartz and his family attend synagogue on the High Holidays, and the Rabbi makes sure her family keeps its own religious traditions.

The Silvermans light multiple hannukiyah every night, sing songs and invite family and friends over for all eight nights.

“It’s ultimately the family’s responsibility to create tradition,” Silverman said, which is how she thinks small children, excited by Hanukkah’s gifts, can understand the religious significance of the other holidays. At Temple Emanuel, religious school students learn about the holidays throughout the year.

At the end of the day, though, Hanukkah is “a minor holiday,” Silverman said.

Jane Doe December 14, 2012 at 11:56 AM
Wishing everyone a Happy Chanukah! Next year (2013) the first DAY of Chanukah falls on Thanksgiving. And to those celebrating Christmas, "Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays".
McGibblets December 14, 2012 at 12:07 PM
Wishing everyone a Happy Kwanzaa as well, the forgotten holiday it seems. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kwanzaa
Pachacutec December 14, 2012 at 01:47 PM
I "second" the 2 previous posts, and wish everyone the happiest of holidays.
The Big Egg December 14, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Not to quibble too much about Kwanzaa, but it was only created in 1966, and its popularity seems to be waning, according to that Wikipedia article. What I had not realized until just now is that its creator was an original water-boarder.
Jeff Hawkins December 14, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Yes indeed! Happy Holidays to all!
Shaka Zulu December 14, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Happy holidays to all, lets hope next year is better than last year.
Shaka Zulu December 14, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Kwanzaa is fading because they do not give out gifts.
Tommy Warshaw III December 14, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Happy Festivus! Let the airing of grievances begin!
lisa December 14, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Latkes and turkey.... yum!
John Davisson December 14, 2012 at 04:18 PM
How's the Festivus pole looking this year?
number9dream December 14, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Don't forget to wish everyone a "Happy Apocalypse" on December 21st. I'm giving everyone a can of tuna and a roll of toilet paper this year.
Jennifer December 14, 2012 at 04:52 PM
a donation has been made in your name to The Human Fund.
Jeff Andrade December 14, 2012 at 06:27 PM
The Festivus Pole should always be made of aluminum -- very high strength-to-weight ratio. And it requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting.
Sanchez December 14, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Jeff, if it was made of aluminum it would be stolen for scrap.
Arbutus Town Crier December 14, 2012 at 10:55 PM
number9dream u made me laugh! To all do something different and enjoy all the holidays that bring peace to all
moe green December 15, 2012 at 12:53 AM
The made up holiday. The bupkis holiday
Tom December 16, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Kwanzaa should just be replaced by Mother's day or Father's day because parents are the ones that teach us kwanzaa's seven principles of Unity, Self-Determination, Responsibility, Purpose, Creativity and most important Faith. Thanks Mom and Dad
Tom December 16, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Instead of saying Happy Holidays.. why don't you just send wishes for the holiday you celebrate. We should be sharing the holiday we celebrate not be offended by someone's sharing of themeselves. Merry Christmas everyone.
Gregg Roberts December 16, 2012 at 09:11 AM
It drives me crazy when people keep repeating the line ''Hanukkah is a minor holiday.'' In Israel children have off all week for Hanukkah. Orthodox Jewish schools in Baltimore have a 4 day weekend. Hanukkah is other then Purim the only holiday that traditionally doesn't have restrictions on music, travel etc. and is the last holiday historically and the only one to have happened in Israel. No holiday is minor if it the trouble was taken to be minor. But if you want minor Jewish holidays in the sense that we understand the word minor nowadays - Lag B'omer, Tu B'Shvat, there is an a Jewish holiday of love in summer == these are relatively small holidays. Not Hanukkah. Hanukkah is the only holiday that really has in-house decorating. It and Sukkot (Hanukkah started as a delayed celebration of Sukkot -- a holiday more important than Sukkot and often overlooked) are the two holidays with symbols. Hanukkah has the menorah and Sukkot, the hut, kind of life a Christmas tree you can live inside. That being said, Hanukkah while a festival of light like Christmas is not Christmas for Jews. It is the the Jewish festival of lights versus the Christian one. Trees and tinsel may well not be appropriate but the same enthusiasm in the Jewish festival of lights expressed in a traditional and embelleshed way (it's a ''mitza' to embellish the mitzva of Hanukkah) is entirely appropriate. Hanukkah was huge even in the shetls of Eastern Europe. Let's keep it HUGE.

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