Why I Love Chanukah
I posted a rant a few weeks ago about how the Christmas season tends to get on my nerves by permeating everything around me, with people acting like it’s odd that I don’t celebrate it. After a few days of Chanukah, though, I’ve mellowed out a bit. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still hate that every place in America goes Christmas-crazy. I still can’t stand the plethora of Christmas songs played with nary a Chanukah song in sight. I still bristle when my kids are asked what they want from Santa. But, I’ve decided to try to focus on the positive. I’ve decided to focus on why I like celebrating Chanukah instead of Christmas.
- Chanukah celebrates freedom. Where Christmas celebrates the birth of a religion’s messiah figure (or was it the arrival of a magical fat man bearing toys?), Chanukah celebrates freedom. Back in the day, a Syrian king ruled over the land of Judea. Jews living in that land were told that they could no longer worship their own religion. They couldn’t read the Torah, observe Shabbat, or anything. They had to worship the Greek gods or else. Many went along with this, but not Judah Maccabee. He organized a group that revolted and fought for their freedom of religion. They won against overwhelming odds and drove the Syrians out of Judea. Chanukah commemorates that victory.
- Chanukah ties in nicely with American history. America was colonized by people fleeing religious persecution. It became a separate country when the people got sick of a king imposing his ways onto them. America has valued religious freedom when other countries would rather force everyone to worship the same god. These themes are echoed in the Chanukah story. Teaching them together reinforces the message that each one sends.
- Chanukah has a conservation message. After the Syrians were driven out, the Jews tried to rebuild but found their temple defiled. They only had enough oil to light their menorah for one night. (It was supposed to stay lit 24/7 those days.) It would take 8 days to make more. Miraculously, the oil lasted 8 days! Yes, the conservation angle is a modern twist, but it’s not that bad of a fit. If we could make our resources stretch 8 times as long, there would be a lot less pollution/etc in the world.
- Chanukah is inexpensive. Ok, there’s the whole 8 days of presents thing (which isn’t *really* part of Chanukah but has been ingrained long enough that it might as well be). Of course, those don’t have to be 8 huge presents. We tend to give one or two larger presents and then round it out with smaller ones (books, clothing, etc). Other than that, though, all you really need is a menorah (which you use year after year) and candles for each night. (44. Yes, I did the math.) Alternatively, you could use an oil menorah which is more authentic and possibly less expensive. (We tend to buy our candles on clearance after Chanukah and then put them away for next year.) We don’t need to buy a tree or lighting or ornaments or plastic Santas to sit on our lawn. Oh, and you should have some dreidels but you don’t need to make them out of clay. 😉
- Chanukah is easy. See the previous point about tree, lighting and ornaments. All we need to do is put the menorah out, light some candles, say some blessings and call it a night. The hardest thing about Chanukah might be frying up latkes, but you could always take the lazy way out (*cough*like I did*cough*) and buy frozen.
- Chanukah isn’t overcommercialized. This is the flip-side to the “Christmas is everywhere, what about Chanukah” thing. While at times Chanukah might seem to be ignored, it also isn’t overcommercialized. I’m not going to see countless “RANDOM CARTOON CHARACTER Saves Chanukah” specials. I’m not going to be pressured into buying tons of useless junk because it’s got a menorah or dreidel stamped on it. I’m not going to be marketed to like crazy with the insinuation that I either spend a ton of time and money or my Chanukah is somehow less meaningful. Again, there’s the whole 8 nights of gifts thing, but that’s all.
In addition to all of this, my quest to find good Chanukah music was aided by an unlikely source. Normally, I’d be opposed to pretty much everything Orrin Hatch stands for. His political views and mine almost never agree. However, he recently recorded a Chanukah song. And this isn’t just Orrin singing “I Have A Little Dreidel”, it’s a brand new song! You can read the story behind it and hear the song itself at The Atlantic. It’s found a place in my rotation along with the Barenaked Ladies Chanukah songs and Adam Sandler’s originals.
So all in all, I’m happy to celebrate Chanukah! Now, if you’ll excuse me, this dreidel won’t spin itself.