Thursday, November 26, 2020

Hanukkah should not be overshadowed by Christmas

’Twas the night before Christmas, and what did I do, but sit around wondering what I was going to do the next day. Growing up in a Jewish household, we usually stuffed the house with rented movies and Chinese food, because that’s basically all we could find open.

I always sat gazing out at the snowy morning, thinking about the millions of people sitting around their Christmas trees, opening gifts, smiling at Santa and thanking one another for the new TV set or pair of skis they just acquired. Well, yeah, we did that too, the gift-exchanging thing I mean.

But it was a couple of weeks ago, and instead of thinking about the millions of people celebrating our eight sacred nights of Hanukkah, the five in my family gathered around the menorah, sang our beautiful prayers, and remembered the sacred story of how Hanukkah came to be. My mom would tell the story, “When all the Jewish temples were being destroyed by evil terrorists long ago, all the oil had been banished in the destruction except for a very small amount of oil that burned for eight nights, in turn, giving light to the eight nights of Hanukkah.”

We exchanged the few gifts we could afford to buy or make one another for this year’s Hanukkah celebration. I suppose I’m not just speaking for the Jews when those who celebrate other holidays such as Ramadan or Kwanzaa get asked, “What did you get for Christmas?” And every year I have to say, “I don’t celebrate Christmas.” “But why not?”

Why not succumb to the universal holiday Christmas has become and join in the green, red and gold festivities of the majority? And then for those who know you celebrate another holiday, they feel awkward asking you what you got on every one of the eight nights of Hanukkah, turning the Jewish celebration into a greedy holiday because we get presents eight nights in a row.

Well, maybe when I was a little girl, I was granted small trinkets every night, like a coloring book or crayons. But now, as we’ve grown older, we still celebrate the holiday in a more holy sense by recognizing the sacred story behind its celebration and lighting the candles each night, whether we have gifts to exchange.

To tell you the truth, I feel the over-celebration of Christmas has caused it to lose its significant meaning. And maybe those of us, who can celebrate our holiday more discretely, can feel the powers of it in our households.

Now, I’m definitely not saying Christmas is bad. When I first start to see the Christmas decorations in stores and houses, I get a warm fuzzy feeling inside. And my family has tried to enjoy Christmas, even though it isn’t our holiday. One year my dad hung up stockings on the fireplace, but my mom cried because she felt we were disregarding our own holiday. And we have gazed into the creative light displays at Domino’s Farms in Ann Arbor from time to time.

But we’ve always left feeling eerie, as if we are going through the motions of something we don’t belong to. Maybe we are being ethnocentric. Maybe we are just feeling ignored. Or maybe the history of our Jewish culture and religion lives and breathes inside of us, making it difficult to appreciate what once tried to slay our culture; that which wasn’t accepting of us.

And it is especially during this time of year, when the lack of attention and acknowledgment that Jews exist is hung in our faces with a neon sign, or Christmas light that is. I guess every year I go through the motions of our ceremonious Chinese meal out and movie-watching and Christmas Day.

But, what really got me this year was that it seems MSU’s campus only recognizes the majority with its decorative light displays on campus buildings. Yes, “Happy Holidays” and “Peace on Earth” signs do exist, but are these signs taking the easy way out from recognizing other individual’s holidays by summing them all up in a generalized sign?

That’s how I feel I guess. Now, I myself am not a very religious Jew. But I do recognize my ethnicity as Jewish and I do know we have holidays as well that often get overlooked, especially when school breaks are labeled Christmas or Easter break, maybe hoping the Jewish holidays fall upon the same day. Well, how about Passover, Hanukkah, or the most sacred of all, the high holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah? Must I be in a Jewish Studies course to have an excused absence on those days? I don’t think so.

However, one would think during Yom Kippur, a holiday of which we must fast all day, one would be excused from traveling to class. And what about Ramadan? This Islamic holiday includes so much fasting, how is one expected to perform at his or her highest? Since the majority doesn’t take part in the celebration of Ramadan, Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah, must those of us who do face the fact that we may not be excused from class on the day of a midterm?

Erin Schwartz, a State News undergraduate columnist, can be reached at schwar80@msu.edu.

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