What It’s Like To Be Jewish During Christmas

By: Jaelen Hodges

Christmas is everywhere in December, from grocery stores to radio commercials to parking lots filled with trees. If you live in America, you cannot go more than a quarter mile without seeing something to remind you of the holiday. Even the music played before the morning announcements at our very own school remind you of Christmas. For a majority of the student population this is no issue, just a fun way to get into the Christmas spirit. However, a poll of 150 students at South shows that 38 percent of South students celebrate holidays other than Christmas, and nearly one in five students celebrate Hanukkah. As someone who celebrates Christmas, I talked to Jewish students at South so I could find out what it is really like to be Jewish during Christmas time.

The element of Christmas time that makes Jewish students the most salty is that they do not get time off from school. While most students go home, do their homework, and then blissfully count down the days to winter break, students who celebrate Hanukkah have to do schoolwork while family and friends who have travelled to celebrate with them partake in festivities. While some years, like this one,  days of Hanukkah happen to fall during winter break, there are times when the entire holiday takes place while school is in session.

“On years when Hanukkah is not during winter break, my mom throws us a fake Hanukkah or ‘ninth’ night we can celebrate without having to go back to school the next day,” said junior Jesse Pearce.

Although it is unanimously agreed upon that not getting time off for Jewish holidays sucks, student opinion on the holiday music on the announcements varies.

“The Christmas music on the announcements frustrates me a little,” said junior Bella Moses. “Seeing people, during Hanukkah, jamming out to Christmas music I don’t know while [Christmas] is almost two weeks away seems like overkill.”

However, some students dislike the music for other reasons.

“I hate the Christmas music, but not because it’s Christmas music, just because all Christmas music is inherently terrible,” said Pearce.

The media is also heavily biased during the holiday, particularly in commercials and ads for gifts. Many stores advertise items as perfect gifts for Christmas, which makes students like Moses quite angry.

“I hate how everyone thinks Christmas is the only reason to buy anything in December.” Moses said. “When I see an ad for something that I want to buy my brother for Hanukkah, and then it is presented as ‘The perfect Christmas present’ by the ad, it makes me so angry. There are seven million Jewish people looking for presents in December, too!”

The most interesting thing I discovered while talking to people who celebrate Hanukkah is that Hanukkah is not a very important Jewish holiday. I had always been under the impression it was the most important one, but the holiday has been made bigger because it basically has to compete with Christmas. Christmas essentially transformed Hanukkah in America after Jewish immigrants in the 1890s realized that Hanukkah celebrations could not hold a candle to Christmas. In the early 1900s, Hanukkah in the U.S. was revamped, and traditions like giving gifts were added so that Jewish Americans could join in on the craze of buying gifts.

“Keeping within the framework of our own tradition, using a color scheme of blue and silver and yellow and gold, let us adorn our homes inside and out as beautifully as we can for Hanukkah, enlarging upon the old-time Feast of Lights,” said a Californian Jewish woman in 1907 from the book Chapters in American History.

Another problem has arisen because of all the Christmas exposure during December.  Jewish students have become pretty desensitized to having to deal with these issues because they have grown up constantly surrounded by the competing holiday, which is an issue in itself. We know that we cannot simply get rid of Christmas, but just because Jewish people have to deal with Christmas being blasted at them, does not mean that they should.

“I think one of the reasons the Jewish community has a culture of indifference toward constant reminders of Christmas is because its been much worse for us before, and issues like saying ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Merry Christmas’ seem much less worth fighting over,” said Pearce.

Even in places like Eugene with relatively large Jewish populations, there are many people who still have lots of questions about the workings of Hanukkah. In an attempt to clear up some of the confusion, I collected common questions Jewish students at South receive and their corresponding answers.

“Do you have a Hanukkah tree/bush?”

No. There is no Hanukkah tree or bush. Not every holiday needs decorated shrubbery that will die a slow death after Uncle Larry forgets to water it for two weeks straight.

“Did you believe in Santa as a kid?”

Again, no. So thank all your Jewish friends for not spilling the beans to you when you were little.

“Do you have to be religious to celebrate Chanukah?”

No. Double standards much? You can celebrate Christmas without being religious just like you can celebrate Hanukkah without being religious.

“Do you really eat Chinese food on christmas?” Yes, because very few stores or restaurants are open on Christmas. But Chinese restaurants generally are because many of the owners do not celebrate Christmas. Going to the movie theater is another popular Christmas day tradition for Jewish people. Since most people are at home with their families, you get the best seats.

“Is Hanukkah like Jewish Christmas?”

No. Hanukkah is the “Celebration of Lights,” a relatively minor Jewish holiday according to legend celebrating a Jewish military victory over their Greek and Syrian oppressors in the second century B.C.E.; no fat man breaking into people’s homes anywhere in the story.

In the end, Jewish people party hard and have a great time during Hanukkah despite not getting time off from school and having to deal with all our Christmas nonsense. Hanukkah may have only become more important because it had to compete with Christmas, but that does not mean that latkes or doughnuts are any less delicious. So, during December, celebrate whatever you want. We can all agree that sparkly lights and candles are pretty and that eggnog does not care what holiday you celebrate.

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