10 Holiday Controversies

Celebrating Hanukkah as the 'Jewish Christmas'
An elder toasts at a Hanukkah dinner. Some people complain about the 'Christmastization' of Hanukkah. John Moore/Getty Images

Every year as Christmas nears, some Jews begin to fret about Hanukkah and its "Christmastization." Hanukkah is a minor holiday within Jewish tradition (the major celebrations are Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Dubbed "the festival of lights," it commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem, and the fact that while the Jews only had enough oil to light the temple menorah for one night, the oil lasted for eight.

Hanukkah, which falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas (the dates change every year and are tied to the moon cycle), is observed for eight days. Celebrations generally feature the lighting of a family menorah — an additional candle each day — and playing the dreidel for chocolate coins. But the holiday is not supposed to be about giving and receiving presents and having a big dinner. In short, Hanukkah is not the Jewish version of Christmas [source: Rich].

But over the years, as Christmas became increasingly commercialized and ubiquitous, many Jewish families started beefing up their Hanukkah celebrations so their kids didn't feel left out of the fun. They began purchasing presents for others, sending Hanukkah cards and even decorating their lawns with giant menorahs. Some of these actions weren't an attempt to turn Hanukkah into the "Jewish Christmas" — but actually a means of asserting Jewish identity [sources: Rich, Crimmings].

Interestingly, at the turn of the 20th century, many American Jews actually celebrated Christmas. They didn't view this as turning their backs on their religion, but rather as embracing their assimilation into American society. Over time, however, rabbis and other religious leaders put the kibosh on this practice [source: Crimmings].