Being Jewish in the diaspora is especially difficult during Christmas. Christmas is such a shiny and beautiful celebration, that it is hard for Hanukkah not to be eclipsed by it. I decided to rise to the challenge. Here is how I did it.
1) Acknowledge the beauty of Christmas
Honesty is key. The Christmas decorations and lights are lovely. There is no harm in saying so. My family enjoyed admiring them all around us. At no time were christmas decorations allowed in our home, and my kids were never permitted to help their friends decorate a Christmas tree.
2) Control the radio and television
As soon as Thanksgiving is over, the broadcast media inundates everyone with Christmas music and movies. We made a point of listening to Hanukkah and Israeli music, and to watch movies about Hanukkah. We created our own Hanukkah bubble, which was surrounded by Christmas.
3) Instill pride with the retelling of the story of the Maccabees
Tell your kids the story of the bravery of the Maccabees. Use whatever resources you have at your disposal to bring it to life. Most kids are fascinated to discover that the weapon of mass destruction during their time was the war elephant.
4) Make Hanukkah crafts
We made our own beeswax candles and hanukiot. It was so much more meaningful for the children to light a menorah they had made themselves.
5) Participate in community celebrations
Your family may join an ice menorah sculpting and lighting happening, or go to the Latkepalooza to taste non-traditional latkes. Communal menorah lightings and celebrations are a wonderful way to feel part of your People during Hanukkah.
6) Create your own Hanukkah fun
We celebrated Hanukkah by making our own gelt, preparing latkes and sufganiot, and hosting at least one Hanukkah party. It is fun to serve Israeli foods during a Hanukkah party, as well as Sephardic treats and specialties from other Jewish communities. Of course, no Hanukkah party is complete without the dreidel game.
7) Light an olive oil menorah
Lighting an olive oil menorah transports you back in time to the Temple in Jerusalem. Your family can relive the rededication of the Temple after the victory of the Maccabees, and the lighting of the pure oil.
8) Give great presents!
If you examine the reasons young children are envious of Christmas, one of the main ones is that gifts are involved. This one is easy to solve. I told my kids that while children who celebrate Christmas get gifts during only one day, kids who celebrate Hanukkah get gifts during eight nights. Then, I went out and bought eight great gifts for each of them. They had something to look forward to every day. When Christmas and Hanukkah were over, all the kids at school compared what they had received. My children were satisfied with their gifts.
9) Bond with other Jews
There is a special bond that forms in December between Jews. There are enough of us in the Philadelphia area that together we share a special Christmas tradition. Have dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown, and then go to a movie. Check the Jewish community listings for special activities and events scheduled on December 24 and 25. Single people in our community should go to the matzah ball where they can mingle with other eligible single Jews. Even when Christmas and Hanukkah don’t overlap, non-Christmas feels like our own special holiday.
10) Be genuinely happy for your Christian friends.
I always wish my Christian friends a happy Christmas, and I mean it. I love hearing about their different traditions and recipes. I have modeled this behavior for my family.
My kids are now young adults. I asked them what they thought of their Hanukkah experience growing up in the United States. They told me that Christmas is a beautiful holiday, and that they feel so lucky to be Jews celebrating Hanukkah.