Hannukah: It Just Ain’t Christmas

It’s the Hannukah Season.  What?  You haven’t seen the decorations everywhere?  Heard the incessant Hannukah music on the radio? Shopped the Hannukah Sales?

Yeah. Me neither.

No one thinks about Hannukah.  No one talks about it or sings about it, or makes claymation shows about it. (although these Yeshiva U. guys did make a great video about it.) And all that lack of attention to Hannukah makes my kids feel like outcasts.

Think about it, there are no songs about Hannukah being the most wonderful time of the year, no movies about mean people becoming nice when they find the Hannukah spirit, no jolly old men (old Jewish men aren’t –  by genetic predisposition -jolly) in bright red suits.  And, of course, no tree. We’ve got a candelabra.   Oooh!

My daughter, especially, complains every year throughout “the holiday season” (who are they kidding?  they mean CHRISTMAS season) that “nobody cares.”  And I can see her point. Every commercial talks about Christmas Shopping, every store window has Christmas decorations, every time you turn around it’s Christmas this and Christmas that.  There’s the token “Happy Hannukah” or the generic and meaningless “Happy Holidays” tossed in there too, but let’s face it: Christmas Rules;  Hannukah drips wax on your table.

The worst of it came earlier this week when my kids and I watched Glee.  Or should I say we watched A Very Special Glee Christmas. Because the entire show featured everyone – even the purportedly Jewish characters, donning green and red and singing Christmas songs.

Glee is my daughter’s favorite show.  She is obsessed.  She loves it.  But this episode made her cry.

Glee’s Christmas Spectacular of an episode made her realize just how out of the popular consciousness Hannukah, and therefore Judaism is.  “Everything is Christmas!” she cried and cried. “No one cares! Nobody cares about Hannukah!”  And so she felt that no one cared about her – in the deepest sense of who she is.

Hannukah is not, truth be told, a particularly significant Jewish Holiday.  It is a historic, rather than religious one.  So it isn’t so much about Hannukah itself, as about NOT being part of Christmas. (And please don’t tell me I should celebrate it because it’s American – not really Christian.  It’s Jesus’ birthday.)

Part of me thinks “She had to find out sometime.”  Living in New York, she thinks that Jews are everywhere.  When my kids were three, and going to a Jewish nursery school, we were trying to cross town on Saint Patrick’s Day.  “Why is it so busy?” asked my son. “Is it Purim?”

Yeah. Purim is why thousands of people descend on the city, get drunk, and throw up here.  Though I guess the getting drunk and puking part kind of does describe Purim.

The point is, at some point, the reality is going to set it: Jews are such a small percentage of the US and World population as to not even be a blip on the consciousness of most Americans.

But another part of me wants her to feel that being Jewish matters. I want her to feel a part of a 5,000+ year old culture and community (and religion, but that’s less my personal focus.) I don’t want her to think of her Jewishness as something that nobody cares about.  Or to be something she doesn’t care about.

So how about this?  When the Glee crowd does their holiday episode next year, Rachel and Puck (well, they’re graduating – but whatever) mention that they don’t happen to celebrate Christmas.  They don’t say things like “best Christmas ever!” They can join in the holiday fun.  They can sing carols for all I care, but at least acknowledge who they are. And not just for comic effect.

Maybe Puck can even sing another Neil Diamond song.


  1. Colleen says

    I thought the same thing – I was surprised that Glee, having such a degree of diverse characters, did not manage to at least touch upon other cultural celebrations at this time of year.However – I did catch Rachel get in a rather quick Happy Hannukah!

    • says

      I missed the Happy Hannukah! Glad to know it was there. And I thought the same thing: they’re so big on inclusion as far as sexual orientation goes – but any characters Jewishness is usually only used for comic effect.

    • Laynie Gold says

      it was a last minut voice over thrown in just before the credits, as if the writers were saying ‘we didn’t forget we swear!’ i liked glee- but that episode really really offended me. im never watching it again. its bad enough we dont get any public decorations. in my aria we at least got a few jewish stars and a manora thrown up on the street lights with the trees and such. but this year i couldn’t find any..im 18 years old, and i’ve never felt more unwelcome in my life. i mean jeze! tehy could have at least done the adam sandler hanukka song some were!

  2. Rich Podolsky says

    Nailed it! It brings to mind this priceless anecdote from an old Tonight Show: Johnny Carson had just teased Don Rickles about not being able to celebrate Christmas. Without missing a beat, Rickles responded, “We might have blown Christmas, but we still sell you the toys.”

  3. says

    Your story reminds me of something, too: the other day I was at a Twitter Party about Holiday Travel. When I said I always left NYC this time of year, she asked “Well, then, where do you go to get Holiday Spirit?” And I answered “We’re Jews. We don’t need no stinkin’ holiday spirit.” 😉

  4. says

    I grew up in Connecticut with a school full of Jewish kids. When the High Holidays rolled around, half of our class took off to go to Temple. At least 75% of my friends were Jewish. It was just part of our everyday life. Now I live in California. My children are the only Jewish kids in the school. Oh, there are kids who are “half” Jewish, whatever that means, but my kids are the ONLY ones who take off on the High Holidays and the ONLY ones who don’t celebrate Christmas at all. My kids are the ONLY ones who write letters to their parents when all the other kids are writing letters to Santa. What bothers me more than anything is the fact that people don’t even acknowledge that part of the population (however small) observes another holiday. It is very hard to live in a society when people just assume you celebrate Christmas.

    • says

      Bummer. But the fact is…that’s the fact. There aren’t that many Jews in the world. I guess that’s why we tend to find each other wherever we live. My sister in law right in NJ also has the only Jewish kids in the school. So it’s not just the West Coast, it’s everywhere. And wherever you are, I hope you have a Happy Hannukah.

  5. says

    My daughter feels the same way. She asked why there weren’t many chanukkah decorations in the windows. Maybe at the very least, we could get one consistent spelling of our holiday, that’ll help alleviate some of it’s inferiority.

  6. says

    We don’t have tv programming, and this is part of the reason. There are no Jews within 200 miles of us, so there is NOTHING Hannukah here. While Hannukah is mostly historical, it does have significance. Our children have really struggled. I’ve just gotten to the point of not really going anywhere unless we really have to during this time of the year. Since we homeschool, we can get away with it to a point. I’d love to see more movies and videos on the Creator’s feasts…

  7. says

    I think the best line in this post is that they use being Jewish to comedic effect but don’t actually follow through when it would matter to a character. If anyone would care about making her boyfriend celebrate HER holiday it would be Rachel Berry! This is a girl who has probably watched Yentl 1,000 times.

  8. Eli says

    I thought this episode of Glee was odd enough that I googled it after and found your post. It’s not even that they left out Chanukah; it’s that they have characters that are outrightly Jewish who never mentioned a thing in this episode about Chanukah or being Jewish, and as you said, had lines like “best Christmas ever.” What? Huh? As Colleen mentioned, at the very end, Rachel mutters “happy hanukah” to someone as the camera pans out on them ringing bells for the salvation army- which, oddly enough, is being boycotted now by a number of people due to an alleged rumor (?) going around that they don’t support LGBQ. So it’s a total head-scratcher for me, and I feel let down as well. As I said, I don’t care if they have an all Christmas episode, but if they have central Jewish characters who suddenly forget any Jewish affiliation they have and become spirited away by Christmas, it’s just weird. And not very inclusive.

    • says

      Thanks for the comment. There is one more thing I felt uncomfortable mentioning…but now I’ve decided it merits being brought up: why is it that the greedy character is also the Jewish one? I know the writers are mostly Jewish, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some unconscious anti-semitism there. And even if Rachel’S greediness was just there so that she could realize the true meaning of Christmas (ugh), did her realization have to come as the result of hearing the story of baby Jesus?
      What’s next…a full on conversion?

      • says

        Nancy, I thought about that too, that Rachel is the one who is all about the gifts. But her line about “I just want my fair share” is snagged exactly from Sally (?) in the Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special, so I don’t know that it was anti-semitism as much as a part of their pseudo-tribute to that show – Finn was Schroeder-esque. And the last part, which “trout mouth” reading the “true meaning of Christmas” is also from the special. I think they were trying for the show within a show idea, but it ended up just being disappointing. Except for the Cheerios singing my favorite Christmas pop song. 🙂

        • says

          Ok. That makes me feel much much better. I hadn’t made those connections…haven’t seen that special in years. So thanks, really. Much better. Still failed as a show, but at least I’m not so offended!

          Sent from my iPad

  9. says

    Feel free to disregard anything I write here because clearly I’m an idiot, having clicked on the video below your post -twice- thinking it was a Glee clip.

    Years ago when my boys were quite young, we were playing with a cool maps feature at Nat’l Geographic. It allowed many options for mapping the earth, including religion. Oh, the Christians. Oh, the Muslims. Then we got the Jews. “I think something’s wrong,” my son said, “all the places are empty.” There was a dot on Israel and maybe tiny dot on NYC and one or two other places. It was a hard slap from reality for my eager little Jewish preschool students.

    Chanukah is a minor holiday, but Glee really missed the boat.

    On the other hand, my local Target, grocery store, and Bed, Bath and Beyond have an aisle (okay, 1/2 an aisle) filled with Chanukah paraphernalia, so we do get some attention from big chains in my neck of the woods.

    And look, I’ve got a Hanuka video on my YouTube channel (topical, yet shameless self promo http://youtu.be/gNLZuMskDVg), but it’s really hard to optimize for SEO when nobody can agree how to spell the holiday. I’m with Shari. Perhaps the first step to Chanukah pride is uniform agreement on spelling.

    Oh, and it’s not the perky Glee kids, but you might get a kick out of what some predict will be the hot new Chanukah video of 2011. http://ishopforisrael.com/rocky-hora-chanukah-song/ I’m still a fan of the 2010 Maccabeats, myself.

  10. Cathy says

    great post. I couldn’t believe they “converted” two of the most outspoken characters on the program. It’s a disgrace because the writers and most people in Hollywood are in fact Jewish themselves, why hide it and make Christmas and Christianity the star?

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