I’m what you’d call Jew-ish. I’ve never opened the Torah. I don’t know a lick of Hebrew. I only attend temple service for weddings, funerals, and Mitzvahs. And speaking of Mitzvahs: To the eternal chagrin of my family, I opted out of my own. (Sorry, Nana!) But on the other hand, I never miss the high holidays. And I have a near instinctual affinity for lox, the Upper East Side, and all things Larry David. Like I said: Jew-ish.
So it may come as a bit of a surprise that Hanukkah—more than New Year’s, more than my birthday, more than even Thanksgiving, where unrepentant gluttony is not only accepted but encouraged—is my favorite holiday, of all time, ever. But those eight crazy nights are constantly overlooked. When you think of what your favorite holiday is, do you even consider Hanukkah? See? Told you so. And I implore you to reconsider. Here’s why the festivities shouldn’t be counted out. And for more of our great holiday coverage, check out The 22 Worst Christmas Traditions of All Time.
You get eight days. Yes, of gifts.
Let’s just get the obvious one out of the way: Eight days of gifts is better than one day of gifts. And if you’re struggling over thinking up eight whole gift ideas for your Jewish friend(s), you may want to take a look at the 100 “Wow” Gifts For the Person Who Has Everything.
But deep down, it’s about giving, not receiving.
When it comes down to it, though, Hanukkah is a truly gracious holiday. And don’t take it from me, the guy who just sung the praises of weeklong consumerism; take it from Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman. “Giving is one of the things that Jewish people are supposed to work on during Hanukkah,” he says. “And that doesn’t mean something tangible, like an iPhone or what have you. It could be time. It could be love.”
There’s a lot of food.
“There’s an old joke about Jewish holidays: They can all be summed up in nine words,” says Bregman. “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.” And let me tell you: This absolutely checks out. For the most recent Passover, I ate so much I popped a button off my shirt. For Hanukkah, you get to eat like that not just on one day but for eight.
Two words: Jelly. Donuts.
Speaking of food, during Hanukkah, we stuff our faces with one delicacy in particular: Jelly donuts. The rationale, according to Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook, is based on ancient Israeli folklore. Apparently, after God gave Adam and Eve the boot from Eden, he felt a pang of guilt. To make it up to the young lovers, he gave them jelly donuts. It’s a nice story, but the truth is that I’ll take any excuse to load up on sweets.
Hanukkah celebrates a miracle.
Everyone knows that Hanukkah celebrates, as Adam Sandler decreed, eight crazy nights. But those eight nights represent something that’s actually pretty, well, crazy. As the story goes, the Maccabean Jews were in the Second Temple in Jerusalem. They needed light, but only had enough oil to keep a candle alight for one night. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight nights.
One could argue that the festivities are more environmentally friendly than Christmas.
We Jews gather around a Menorah: A spiritual, nine-pronged candelabra, and not a tree.
Hanukkah represents hope.
According to Bregman, the spirit of Hanukkah is this: “A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.” In 2017, that’s a message I can really get behind.
The dates change every year.
This year, Hanukkah starts on Tuesday, December 12th. Last year, it started on Saturday, December 24th. In 2013, Hanukkah started on Thursday, November 28th—which also happened to be Thanksgiving, thus leading to the creation of the delightful portmanteau, “Thanksgivukkah.” (And yes, in celebration, I stuffed my face doubly.)
Hanukkah has (mostly) resisted corporatization.
The second it turns Black Friday, our culture goes into full-on Christmas mania. Trees, wreathes, jingle bells—it’s everywhere. On one hand, it’s positively lovely for everyone to be in a collective holiday spirit. But on the other hand, isn’t the mass corporatization of a major religion’s primary holy day nothing more than a cynical cash grab that ultimately dilutes said holiday’s intrinsic message?
Finally, a hyper-specific and symbolic personal reason.
Hanukkah has an illustrious history, much of it complex and steeped in a Star Wars–sized trove of lore. But the crux is this: The Maccabean Jews successfully resisted the armies of the Seleucid Empire, a Grecian state that overruled Jerusalem and Israel at the time. At the story’s end, everyone lived in relative peace and harmony. Here’s the thing: My father’s Greek, and my parents—Grecian and Jew—today live together in relative peace and harmony.
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