Much ado has been made in recent years about how Christmas has become much more about consumerism and commercialism than about the spirit of the holiday, and certainly about its religious significance. An entire gift-giving industry has been created around Christmas. There are etiquette rules about who should be given a Christmas gift (don’t forget your Starbucks barista and that lady who always says hi to you when you walk your dog!) and how much you should spend on them. Many retailers will either live or die based on their Christmas sales.
It’s tough enough to compete, but if you don’t even try, you will become obsolete. Thus, those of the Jewish faith have put out a valiant effort at making sure Hanukkah or Chanukah doesn’t get overshadowed. You can’t blame them. Christmas symbols dominate our landscape throughout November and December, and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, this can be not only overwhelming, but often offensive. Christmas trees at home are one thing, but why should we thrust Santa Clauses and Christmas carols at non-Christian consumers in stores?
Growing up, I didn’t have many Jewish friends, but those I did never spoke of Hanukkah. One would never have known that it was a Jewish holiday. There was no talk of Hanukkah songs, Hanukkah decorations, Hanukkah gifts, or Hanukkah traditions of any kind… When I married into a Jewish family (of the Reform kind), Hanukkah was brushed over as a minor holiday, almost insignificant. There was never even a “Happy Hanukkah” greeting among the family.
So it strikes me as interesting that today, as I try to introduce some awareness of Jewish culture into DQ’s life, the books I read to her and the Hanukkah parties we’ve attended have made a big deal out of the significance and the symbols of Hanukkah and most surprisingly to me, the notion of gifting to kids. I personally think it’s quite wonderful, however, I can’t help but wonder if this has happened because Jewish people have felt a need to compete with Christmas? Is it a way to say to the world (accompanied by the manly pounding of the chest), “Hey, Hanukkah is full of good things, too! We give gifts, too! We sing songs and eat good food, too!”
Think of who benefits from this: gifting retailers, food retailers, book publishers… greeting card retailers have a special Hanukkah card section, grocery stores promote goods for Hanukkah celebrations, Indigo had a display (albeit very small) of Hanukkah-related gifts, party stores had a special Hanukkah decorations section… Capitalism always prevails – it’s a beautiful thing! If there is one thing retailers are good at, it is turning sometimes meaningless events and occasions into something worth celebrating – they just need to give people the right tools.
Whatever you may celebrate, I wish you happy times. Thank you for giving me an audience for my random thoughts over the past several months.