Mainstream and Clashes




Following in the steps of Christmas?

Growing up, especially in New York, I lived and grew up with friends of different backgrounds. When the Winter season came around, many of my friends were pining for their Christmas presents, while I never quite understood the hype. Years later, now, I understand the traditions of Christmas, but have always wondered…did Hanukkah borrow traditions from Christmas in the form of gifts?


Lacking the technical title of being a High Holiday, Hanukkah still proves to be a well-established and observed holiday in the Jewish Community. Though more fun and less serious, it still involves family gathering, food,games, and gifts!


Some,  however, fear that materialism is sweeping through Hanukkah at a dangerous rate, gaining Christmas ideals, and forgetting Hanukkah traditions.

Mr. Abramowitz addressed this issue in his Jewish Family and Life! Media.1 Abramowitz stresses the importance of avoiding the “Christmification” of Hanukkah, for it is important to have a visible spiritual line between the two holidays. Since the Jewish population hardly takes up 2.7 percent of the US population, it certainly is miraculous that Hanukkah is considered one of the most observed holidays during the Winter season; it does not give it an excuse,  however, to abandon traditional ideals for a stride towards commercialism.

Abramowitz expresses his disgust:

“Now Disney has launched Mickey Mouse dreidels and Winnie the Pooh

Hanukkah menorahs. My first reaction is to roll my eyes and point to this as evidence that American Judaism is going down the tubes. But upon further reflection, there may be a brighter side to all the public recognition that Hanukkah is receiving. If we can embrace the image of Mickey spinning the dreidel without spending hundreds of dollars on Disney gifts, perhaps we can truly balance the normalization of public Judaism with our own meaningful values.”

In order to achieve more meaningful relations to Hanukkah, observers should engage in the following:

Put a Cap on Spending: By establishing a maximum amount to be spent on gifts, the holiday can be submitted into a more noble, and modest form, without seeming like materialism is the entire point.

Love: Create an environment with your family that is filled with passion and legitimate love for the traditions of the holiday: cooking latkas, lighting candles, playing games together, and eating together as a family.

Tzedakah / Charity: engaging your family and promoting charity, instead of giving to eachother, emphasizes the goodwill of the holiday, rather than the materialistic factor.

Food: Create and share something meaningful with your family in the form of delicious recipes you can create together. Less shopping at the store, more making at the home!


A Direct Commercial Relationship

Abramitzky further wished to study trends between consumerism of Jews during the Christmas season. First, he attempts to develop a theory trying to link the materialism and emphasis on the celebration of Hanukkah of Jews on the presence of Christmas during the holiday season and whether children might feel left out. Comparing statistics to Israeli Jews, where Jews are a majority, Israelis do not rank Hanukkah as important a holiday to take notice of. American Jews with children in the household, however, demonstrate a significantly higher level of celebrating Hanukkah.2

The Following is a statistics table contrasting Jews in American to Israel; Illustrating Hanukkah’s increased emphasis in the US

Table 1.    Survey Results Regarding the Perceived Importance of Jewish Holidays

Respondents Israel Survey US Survey
84 123
  1. The survey participants are undergraduate students of economics in Tel Aviv University and Stanford University. The Table reports the percentages of times each holiday was checked (as one of the 3 most important) by each participant. Note that the percentages do not add up to 300% exactly; this is because a small number of respondents did not mark a full list of 3 holidays. We did not adjust the way we count their responses (e.g., by reweighting).

Do you consider this holiday among the 3 most important Jewish holidays? (%)
Rosh Hashana 90.5 78.9
Sukkot 34.5 8.1
Hanukkah 38.1 68.3
Purim 8.3 8.9
Passover 96.4 93.5
Shavuot 26.2 11.4
Don’t know 1.2 15.4
Do you think your classmates consider this holiday among the 3 most important Jewish holidays? (%)
Rosh Hashana 88.1 78.0
Sukkot 42.9 1.6
Hanukkah 29.8 95.1
Purim 10.7 4.1
Passover 95.2 91.1
Shavuot 21.4 5.7
Don’t know 4.8 5.7

In correspondence to spending during the Winter season, Jews tend to have a spike when Hanukkah comes around, as well.

According to studying statistics of purchasing habits during Winter season, American Jews do indeed tend to compete with Christmas, in a sense. However, it may be due to a natural need to secure and protect a strong Jewish Identity, as Hanukkah is not nearly as prevalent in Israel, where Christmas is not as observed. In addition, households with children evidently portray more commercial habits during this season, lending more reason to believe Hanukkah competes with Christmas, to a degree.


Main Traditional Clash

As Rabbi Zelikovitz in my interview with him observes, Christmas, which began its celebrations hundreds of years after the incident of Hanukkah occurred, seems to take the idea of a Festival of Lights.

Christmas, which is known to borrow from other groups, like Paganism, may very well have borrowed the notion of illuminating an object, like the Christmas tree.

However, it is important to note that the illumination may be a mere coincidence, since Christmas borrowed ideas from the Winter Solstice, and may have completely overlooked Hanukkah’s traditions.

Although Rabbi Zelikovitz believes the mimicry was intentional, there are various other holidays that can also serve to solve how illumination came to take up Christmas traditions.





Christmas-Hanukkah Home




2.Abramitzky, R., Einav, L. and Rigbi, O. (2010), Is Hanukkah Responsive to Christmas?. The Economic Journal, 120: 612–630. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0297.2009.02305.x

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