When my brother was in kindergarten, where he was the only Jewish student, a parent organizing enrichment activities asked my mother to tell the class the story of Hanukkah. My mother obligingly brought in a picture book and began to read about foreign conquerors who were not letting Jews in ancient Israel worship freely, even defiling their temple, until a scrappy group led by the Maccabee family overthrew one of the most powerful armies in the world and won their liberty.
The woman was horrified.
The Hanukkah story, she interrupted, was not about war. It was about the miracle of an oil lamp that burned for eight days without replenishing. She urged my mother to close the book. My mother refused.
The woman wasn’t alone. Many Americans, Jews as well as Christians, think that the legend of the long-lasting oil is the root of Hanukkah’s commemoration. And perhaps that mistake is no surprise, given that for many the holiday has morphed into “Christmas for Jews,” echoing the message of peace on earth accompanied by gift giving. In doing so, the holiday’s own message of Jewish survival and faith has been diluted.
The article goes on to note that Hanukkah, until relatively recently, was a minor holiday, barely mentioned in the Talmud and with few cultural traditions. However, its proximity to Christmas (and the ballooning of Christmas as a holiday) led to it being promoted as an act of cultural self-defense. But while turning Hanukkah into “Jewish Christmas” is good for kids, it misses out of the actual meaning of the holiday… and that is a real loss.