When I was 7, I broke a sacred promise to my mother never to tell my only gentile friend that Santa Claus wasn’t real. When he raced home and cried to his mom, she hollered at me “You’re just jealous.”
Now as I walk down East University Avenue and see Rainbow Brite housefronts with reindeer galloping down three stories, the happiest of inflatable Santas laughing not with me but at me, repressed memories come flying back. I realize how upset I am with Hanukah, the ugly stepbrother of Christmas. The holiday that gets no respect at all.
Then again, why should it get any? It’s full of complications. For starters, it can’t even decide on an official spelling. Is it Hanukkah? Hanukah? Chankuah? Is the “c” silent?
And when is it? Everybody knows what happens on December 25, but Hanukah is liable to pop up anytime between November and January.
It may be that because nobody knows when Hanukah is it gets no media coverage. From the day after Thanksgiving on TV, in newspapers, on buildings and billboards, it’s all Christmas all the time. Sometimes I’ll see a bright sign or a red-and-white ad that reads “Happy Holidays,” but it might as well be smeared with ham. I know what they really mean.
Hanukah just isn’t attractive enough for today’s world. It has zero marketable folklore. Christmas has jolly old St. Nick, Mrs. Claus, hard-working elves and a magical team of reindeer who are captained by one that can light up his face at will. And they can fly.
How could Hanukah possibly keep up with that? My self-proclaimed chosen people need to capitalize on opportunity. History shows that they actually saw reindeer first, but what did they do? Slaughtered them properly and made a fine brisket. Hanukah needs an icon.
Christmas celebrity is neverending. There’s a long waiting list for any musicians wanting to record a Christmas album. Christmas spawns enough material to fill radio playlists in shopping malls worldwide for an entire month. There are even multiple Now! That’s What I Call Christmas compilations. Chanukah has “The Dreidel Song” and Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukkah Song.” That’s it. And Sandler, the guy who made the only marketable song for the chosen people also made the only Hanukah movie (“Eight Crazy Nights”), and it’s a dismal cartoon. For how much influence Jews supposedly have over Hollywood, it doesn’t show during this season. God-awful Christmas films are in abundance (so far this year “The Santa Claus 3” and “Deck the Halls”). They can make 100 “Jingle All the Ways” but they can’t make one “I Made It Out of Clay.”
Christmas has mistletoe (which is actually a parasitic plant) that forcefully unites gentiles in passion. It has the Christmas tree, which people can drape with shiny amulets and candy canes to protect the presents. They’ve got it all. Even the snowman, the modern-day symbol of winter ambiguity, has sided with Christmas.
What does Hanukah have to counter the infinite abyss of Christmas delight? The menorah. Something lifeless and top-heavy that sadly cries from inside the window like a man in prison. Hanukah needs some personality – some pizzazz. Hanukah needs to stop limiting its decorating range to cold, dichromatic blue and white. It tried to give the world Hanukah Harry, but he just didn’t seem believable. Would he really go to Jewish households for eight straight nights, especially since he was always complaining how much his feet hurt? Jewish culture does bear some successful intruders during other holidays. For instance, Elijah, who instead of bringing presents, sneaks in on Passover, drinks a cup of wine and leaves. Maybe a long time ago he was supposed to leave presents, but eons of drinking Manischewitz have certainly ruined his mind. (I’m shocked he can still walk.)
And just look at the party scene. Who doesn’t eagerly await the invitation to celebrate Jesus’s birth on a magical sleigh at the big Christmas party, stocked with rum-filled egg nog, merrily singing the endless supply of Christmas songs together until they can grope under some mistletoe or pass out under a Christmas tree? Hanukah parties are a collection of people showing off dreidel-spinning talents while they make bets with thin chocolate coins and tiptoe past the menorah so as not to blow it out. Hanukah celebrates a period when God made an army’s one-day supply of oil burn for eight. And whenever God shows up he tends to be a buzzkill. If you’ve never been to a party with him you’re not missing out. He pretty much just moves around the room in shimmering robes, floating from group to group, popping his head in just to disrupt conversation and say something abstract like, “I am.”
And the eight days are extremely anticlimactic. Sadly, the argument every Jewish kid once used is futile: Yes, we have eight days and they have just one. But this is not a blessing. It’s not an issue of quantity over quality. Some kids get loads of shitty Christmas presents, too. But there are all sorts of problems saddling this overlong affair. How many nights are you required to give a card? How can parents decide what night they should give the best gifts? If a kid knows he’s getting a Wii, each crazy night before it comes is agony. I’ve seen many families where the suspense can boil over into rage. Christmas is one true explosion of holiday cheer and family gathering and then on December 26, it’s all over. Even if it were possible to miss eight days of work or school, no grown Jewish family, or any family, should be cooped up together for that long.
Even though it’s the Festival of Lights, I suppose Hanukah saves us cash because it doesn’t require a tremendous show of outdoor lighting. And I suppose it isn’t exploiting general goodwill toward the holiday by releasing truly terrible films with Tim Allen. And I suppose it’s also probably not healthy to set children up for a catastrophic letdown once they find out that Santa doesn’t actually eat their cookies and milk anyway.
But when it comes right down to it for Hanukkah: no lights, no tree, and no glamour means no respect.