The misconceptions surrounding Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights
By tess alekseev
“Oh, Chanukah? That’s like, Jewish Christmas, right?”
Christmas is an important celebration of the birth of Christ, and is celebrated by Christians, or secularly by non-religious Americans. Chanukah is a small Jewish holiday celebrating the defeat of the Syrians by the Maccabees and the rebuilding of the temple in Judea, during which there was only enough oil to light a candle for one night, it burned for eight.
There are no similarities between Chanukah and Christmas — or, if there are, they are purely coincidental, as the timing is.
The timing of Chanukah only overlaps with Christmas by chance — and they rarely coincide. Christmas’ date stands at a set date on the Gregorian calendar (December 25), whereas Judaism utilises the lunar calendar. This means that Chanukah’s Gregorian date changes each year, ranging from landing exactly on Christmas Eve (as it was last year, in 2016) to mid-November.
The exchange of gifts during Chanukah may lead to the misconception of it being Jewish Christmas. This is not part of the Chanukah tradition — it was only brought about to make Jewish children feel included in the festivities of gift-giving between their Christian peers, and the gifts given on Chanukah are small in comparison to those given on Christmas.
Chanukah itself is older than Christianity, by exactly 100 years — and it’s just one relatively minor holiday on the Jewish calendar. Its importance, however, is not based on its proximity to Christmas.
“It’s always been significant. It’s this idea of light in the darkness. Shedding light has been something that throughout all the ages has meant so much to the Jewish spirit. It has an incredible place in Judaism.” said Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Motti Wilmhelm.
The comparisons between Chanukah and Christmas are irritating to Jewish people because the more important holidays are never mentioned, whereas Chanukah is treated as if it were a major holiday for Jewish people. I feel this is done in order to make goyische (non-Jewish people) feel warm and fuzzy — as if they’ve done something to erase the years of antisemitism. However, it isn’t on them to do so, and to do so incorrectly only adds insult to injury.
If you want to be aware of others’ cultures and include them in the grand scheme of things, great! But you have to recognize that searching desperately for a way to include Jewish people during Christmas time is not accomplishing that. It only makes Jewish people feel less included, because the more important holidays, like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, go unrecognized.
There isn’t a problem with wishing your Jewish friends a Happy Chanukah, but if you want to really make them feel like you’re being actively conscious of their holidays, learn more about what’s really important!