Since I’ve picked Chanukah apart, now I’ll attempt to put it back together. Chanukah is a great holiday. As far as “the world seems to be dying, let’s light things on fire to prove we’re alive” holidays all cultures have, I side with this one.
It’s spread over more than a week. That means that the pressure of family is severely diluted while the warmth of family is not. That whole trope in pop culture about getting together with family and there being too many people and no one wants to be there and then you have to rediscover love while you’re trapped in a house and the tree might catch on fire or fall over? (I’ve seen your goyishe movies, I know how Christmas works) Yeah, that’s not really a thing with Chanukah. Can’t see one side of the family on a certain night? Make it the next night. Want to spend the first night together? There’s another week to dole out your time so you’ll get around to it. It’s a laid back kind of thing.
Presents. It’s easier on the wallet and teaches children to be better people than Christmas. I hear your retort. “But there’s a week of presents compared to one night! That’s got to instill so much greed!” Hush up, gentile, and let me lay it out for you. Christmas is about spectacle. The tree, the decorations, the hideous made-for-television movies, and the saccharine money-grab that is the holiday (read: Christmas) album. That goes for presents to. Like fruitcake, or the epilogue to a YA series, there’s just too damn much laid on too damn thick. Chanukah has presents but they’re not like Christmas presents. There’s usually a big one on the first or final night (depending on the patience of the parents), but there are also numerous smaller ones. There’s chocolate and dreidels and assorted crap. Or not even crap, but also not huge things. Yes, there’s temperance and self-restraint built right into a holiday that takes place during what is generally known as the most materialistic and self-centered “giving season”.
Music. There’s a dearth of popular Chanukah music out there and for that I say “you’re welcome”. If holiday music was good it wouldn’t be holiday music, it would just be music. There’s a reason that Christmas tunes are relegated to a single month (if we’re lucky). If we’re being completely honest, Christmas peaked with this:
This all may sound like sour grapes rationalization but it’s not. All of the things that get touted as the best parts of Christmas from the inside are also the things that get complained about. The family, the gifts, the utter pervasiveness of it everywhere you look for months on end. It becomes a but much. The fact that Chanukah was picked to be the Jewish competition for the big winter holiday showdown is subversively delightful. To be clear, Chanukah wasn’t chosen to be the commercial representative of the Jews, it was assigned to us by marketing campaigns. I think we’ve made a pretty good go with what we were given. We’ve been pretty good avoiding tacky decorations and that bizarre epidemic of themed sweaters. We’ve wrestled with the implications of focusing on presents and come out with a pretty fair balance. We deal with family but get to adjust for our own comfort.
The whole Chanukah explosion seems to have happened when I was in school. I remember the decorations in the hallway and the discussion of presents. This could be (probably is) skewed due to childhood memory and the fact that that’s when people tend to focus on toys, but it seemed to have crested and settled down a bit. As it stands now the waters seemed to have calmed somewhat. If the holidays are a seasonal storm, Chanukah is a patch of tropical rain to escape the hurricane season. Jews love to talk and debate, so maybe discussion is the greatest Chanuakh gift of all. It could have exploded into “Jewish Christmas” but I think it’s become something far more valuable to us Jews; it’s become a conversation. It’s not as overwhelming as it could have turned out to be, and that’s Jewish for success.