15 Reasons Why Hanukkah Is the Most Underrated Holiday Ever
You eat like a king for more than a week (and other amazing perks)
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 the year. And yet, 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.
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), take a look at the 100 Great Gifts Under $100.
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.”
You don’t have to travel home.
Of course, if you no longer live at home, it’s always nice to pay a visit to your folks for the holidays. But Hanukkah isn’t really one of the A-tier holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas) that mandates splurging on a plane ticket. Say that work, school, social, or I-just-don’t-want-to obligations preclude you from heading home. Don’t sweat it—your Jewish folks won’t. (Plus, we all know how horrible airports and interstates can get during the holiday season. No thanks.)
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.
Two more words: Potato. Latkes.
Fried potatoes, no matter the form (hash, shoestring, French), might very well be the best food on the planet. But all types are inferior compared to the latke, a uniquely Jewish concoction of shredded potatoes, green onions, and—if you hew to tradition—applesauce.
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.
Hanukkah music beats Christmas music.
Here’s a perhaps too-revealing personal fact that will likely doom me to be permanently single: I hate Christmas music. Truly can’t stand the stuff. If “Jingle Bells” pops on in a Starbucks, I pop out before ordering. Sure, Hanukkah music isn’t much better (“Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah,” isn’t exactly Thom Yorke-grade lyricism). But it’s marginally better—and that’s at least something.
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.
Celebrations aren’t time-consuming.
Face it: Christmas celebrations take forever. First, there’s the Christmas Eve church service. (A recent, widely shared op-ed in the National Catholic Register actually calls for Christmas Day church service, too.) Then, there’s the whole unwrapping-a-million-presents thing. And then there’s an enormous feast—and all the cleanup that entails.
With Hanukkah, the time commitment, though spread out over more than a week, is minimal. You light the candle, maybe say a prayer (depending on your religiosity), unwrap a present or two, and get on with your night.
Hanukkah represents hope.
According to Bregman, the spirit of Hanukkah is this: “A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.” In 2018, that’s a message I can really get behind.
The dates change every year.
Last year, Hanukkah started on Tuesday, December 12th. In 2016, it started on Saturday, December 24th. In 2013, Hanukkah started on Thursday, November 28th—which also happened to be Thanksgiving, leading to the creation of the delightful portmanteau, “Thanksgivukkah.” And yes, in celebration, I stuffed my face doubly. This year, celebrations start on Sunday, December 2nd—and somewhere in the eight-day span, my birthday lands (no, you don’t get to find out exactly when), which means… Double holiday!
You get to spin the dreidel.
Come on: Everyone—Jewish or not—loves to spin the dreidel. While, yes, technically, you can play on non-Hanukkah nights, it’s encouraged and expected that you play during the holiday.
Hanukkah has (mostly) resisted corporatization.
The second the clock strikes midnight on Black Friday, our culture goes into full-on Christmas mania. Trees, wreaths, 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, this 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 ended up living in relative peace and harmony.
Here’s the thing: My father’s Greek, and my parents—Grecian and Jew—were once upon a time extremely divorced. (Years would go by without them ever being in the same room together.) But now, they’re back together—and today live together in relative peace and harmony. Talk about a metaphor.
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