I would venture that, even if you’ve heard of no other Jewish holiday, you’ve heard of Chanukah.
Yes, I spelled it with the CH. I’ve also seen it done as Hanukkah (the version my spell check likes best) or other ways that have fewer Ks, more Hs etc. There seems to be no consensus! I chose the CH for no other reason then this is the way my husband writes it.
Oof, sorry, I got a little off topic there! You really came to this page to hear more about the holiday, not its spelling. So, where were we?
Every non-Jewish person that I’ve talked to has heard of Chanukah (also called by some the Festival of Lights). At the very least they know that it has something to do with light, a menorah is involved and it happens somewhere around Christmas (it shifts every year because it follows the Jewish calendar). Well, not a bad start, but there more!
Chanukah has a lot of history. In 165 BCE the Maccabees (a Jewish rebel army) managed to wrest control of Jerusalem from the Syrian army. Although they had their temple and city back, they needed to clean and rededicate the temple. This included using sacred oil to relight the eternal flame. Well, they could only find enough oil to last for one day. However, and this is the miracle part, it lasted for eight days giving them enough time to get more oil.
The Festival of Lights celebrates this miracle with the menorah, which you use to light a candle on each of the eight days, and special prayers. For many families there is also a tradition of eating food (like latkes) that are cooked in oil, exchanging presents on each of the eight nights and playing dreidal games.
Hey, did you know that the Hebrew letters on the dreidel (shin, hey, gimel and nun) are the first four letters of the Hebrew words “A Great Miracle Happened Here?” Sorry, I get so easily distracted by little nuggets of information!
Chanukah is another one of those potential interfaith minefields. Some people I’ve talked to feel like it is a relatively minor holiday (especially when compared with Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippor) that has been elevated to try and compete with Christmas. There are some people who barely celebrate it. Others are quite content to make it a big deal regardless of its role in history. Finally, there are those who think it has strayed too far from its true meaning.
Gee, sound like any other holiday I could name?
However, the interfaith conflict can be amplified because of its proximity to Christmas. There are some years where it overlaps, which can make it feel like a tug of war between the two holidays or a time when you need to prove that your holiday is just as exciting and fulfilling.
I’ve been surprised when talking to other interfaith couples what sets off bad feelings (or just uncomfortable ones). For some it is the Christmas Tree, others hate feeling they have to say “Happy Holidays.” I even know someone who got upset because someone forwarded them a video of a flash mob doing “Handel’s Messiah.” In their mind it wasn’t just a holiday stunt, it was a very religious Christmas moment that was forced onto people sitting in that food court.
For me, I was most worried that I wouldn’t be able to make my husband understand why the different parts of Christmas, especially the smallest ones, mean so much. Nothing stings worse then having someone you love brush off a cherished memory.
Thankfully, although I should not have been surprised, he made it very clear that he wanted me to celebrate Christmas however I wanted to. Not only that, he was game to learn all of the things that I consider essential for a “real” Christmas and do them with me. I hope I did the same thing for him and Chanukah!