Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hannuka, Chanuka, Khanukkah, Hanika … Americans, even American Jews, are almost as unsure of how to spell it as we are of its actual significance.
Jeff Jacoby’s brilliant article on the holiday sheds a sweet light (ha-ha) on an important point: Hanukkah is not, in fact, the Jewish Christmas. Traditionally, it’s been considered a somewhat minor holiday in Jewish culture, much less of a tzimmes than we make it out to be these days. While Jacoby shows a whole lot of tolerance toward Hanukkah’s assimilation into the “Holiday Season,” this particular Jew is reluctant to treat it with the same Hallmark mushiness to which the other holiday members of said season have become subject.
The fact is that Hanukkah commemorates a really badass war against oppression. The Maccabees were some seriously hardcore guerrilla warriors. As a result of this, I’ve always felt squeamish about celebrating Hanukkah the traditional non-traditional way: by sitting as a family around the menorah, exchanging gifts, eating low-quality circular chocolates, and, in hushed voice, telling namby-pamby stories about some magic petroleum.
There’s a reason American Jews have so readily rolled over and allowed Hanukkah to be assimilated into the U.S.A.’s Annual Winter Festival of Irrational Spending: it’s because kids love Christmas. True, the Jews get to party hard multiple times during the year (Purim, after all, is basically a professionally catered orgy). But, as a second grader, it’s hard watching all the other prepubescent boys and girls exchange gifts, dress as sexy Santas, and complain about relatives together when you’re stuck at home listening to Grandpa rant about the Assyrians while waving his cane around.
Do we owe our children a Christmas, albeit a Jewish one? Maybe. But I think that we owe them a little more than that as well. The Jewish people are survivors, a real tough breed of warriors. This image of Jews doesn’t necessarily come across in the American media, which would have us believe that Jews are jolly accountants, impotent comedians, fat hairy money grubbers, and poor athletes. Uh—would a poor athlete be able to kick Assyrian ass the way we did in 164 BC (Before Christmas)? I don’t think so. It’s worthwhile to remind ourselves for these eight days every year that we’ve been around this long for a reason. And that reason is that we’re fighters and oppression-smiters as well as candle-lighters and gelt-biters. Warriors.
So, go ahead. Buy presents for your kids, spin a dreidel, and say something sissy about the “meaning of Hanukkah.” But make sure that you and your family keep one thing in mind: the day the Jews get too sissy is the day they cease to exist. After all, there aren’t very many of us left.
With that in mind, consider appending the following activities to your family’s Hanukkah celebration:
1. Choose an Assyrian side and a Jewish side; stage a massive snowball fight (rigged, of course—wouldn’t want to kill the holiday spirit! Just the Assyrians. KILL THEM).
2. Sign up for self-defense lessons. Lecture your children on the importance of fighting back. Obtain contact information re: that bully who’s been picking on little Josh. Show up at his doorstep as a family and let him have it.
3. Learn some particularly potent curse words in Yiddish.
4. Feel generally superior.
Oh, and read that Jeff Jacoby article. It’s really good.
Fight on, my Jews.
Shalom and happy Hanukkah.