Chanukah has long been seen as the Jewish equivalent of Christmas, due to being at the same time of year, also involving the giving and receiving of gifts and through TV shows like the O.C. which gave birth to the super-festival that is Christmukkah (Thank you to Seth Cohen!).
Chanukah – for those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to see the Rugrats Chanukah movie – is the Jewish festival of light. It lasts for eight days and commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the revolt by the Maccabees against Alexander the Great in the 2nd century BCE. It also involves a Menorah, which is lit every night to remember the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days.
However this story which I was told year after year throughout my childhood seems to have little resonance in the Chanukah of today. Both Christmas and Chanukah, in their modern day forms, have undergone drastic changes since their origins. As time has gone by, the traditions have altered and the story of the festival of lights has become secondary to the consumer influences of the holiday season. Where previously Chanukah would be commemorated by lighting a Menorah, eating oily food and the traditional giving of gelt (money), the twentieth century saw the evolution of Chanukah into the Jewish Christmas, as gelt was replaced by gifts and consumerism became the new focus of the festival.
No place is it truer that Chanukah is a Christmas competitor than in America; the land of Disney has taken Chanukah to another level. You only need to search YouTube to find an array of crazy videos, from a Rock of Ages parody of the Chanukah story to a charity campaign publicity stunt in New York playing on the festive concept of Sharing light. The White House itself has a long tradition of celebrating Chanukah, beginning in 1951 when Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion presented President Truman with a Menorah. In more recent years President Obama has hosted a Chanukah celebration and lit a Menorah that survived Hurricane Katrina.
Chanukah can be seen to have evolved from a nationalist celebration with humble traditions to a rival of Christmas. The festival of lights is now celebrated as a hybrid model, linking traditional practices to the ever prevalent consumer culture of today’s society. However, I wish you all a very Merry Christmukkah!