Hanukkah, unfortunately, is not something I know a lot about. Growing up in the public school system, I remember filing into the gymnasium to sing holiday songs every Friday before the holiday break.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “Jingle Bells” and “The Little Drummer Boy” were classics that most of us could sing along to blindly. However, towards the end of our tortuous caroling the projector would show a clip-art image of a dreidel and we all would stumble through the lyrics of “Spin the Dreidel”.
One would think the 21st-century public school system would’ve been more inclusive to those who don’t celebrate Christmas (hence public school) but it’s evident that the system neglected other holidays. I have no knowledge of non-Christian or Catholic traditions during December even after my 14 years in the public school system, which seems like a blatant injustice considering schools are supposed to educate us unbiasedly.
What I do know about Hanukkah is that it is a Jewish holiday that spans eight days during December. I also vaguely know, thanks to “Spin the Dreidel”, what a dreidel is. However, the song does not give a very good explanation of what it really is or how it is used. I also remember a menorah adorning one of my elementary school classrooms, but it is lost on me what the candles represent. I think it is truly upsetting that students of non-Christian or Catholic traditions are subjected to years of Christmas crafts, carols and other traditions in Canada. I sincerely wish I knew more about other holidays, not only during December but throughout the year.
I wish I could say “Happy Hanukkah” with confidence, but unfortunately, Christmas swallows up everything in its path. Our malls, schools, libraries and even corner stores seem to put Christmas on a pedestal, looming above other religious celebrations, which ironically is the opposite of the Christmas spirit and cheer we so often hear about. Hanukkah should be taught in the public school system and society as a whole just as much as Christmas so that adults like myself don’t grow up to be so ignorant of others values and customs.
Ah, Christmas, the time of year where seemingly everyone puts up sparkly lights and hangs those big tree-donuts on their front doors. I don’t really remember how or when I found out that Santa isn’t real, but I think I kind of just always knew. And just in case you were wondering, no, there isn’t a Jewish version of Santa (well physically there are many but spiritually, there are none) — those bubbies and zaidies want all the credit. The whole ‘who forgot to put a name tag?’ problem is not one that arises on Hanukkah, believe me.
Unlike Emma, I did not grow up in the public school system but rather the niche group of private Jewish schools in downtown Toronto, so you can imagine the bias towards Hanukkah was probably equivalent to the public system’s Christmas-ness.
But to the extent of my knowledge, Christmas Eve falls on December 24, while Christmas Day falls on the 25th, which I believe is Jesus’ birthday. I think that’s about all there is to know, right? Presents are put under the tree, cookies and milk are left somewhere, I’ve seen movies.
Also, to answer a couple of the questions above, a dreidel is basically a four-sided spinning top with a different letter on each side used to play a gambling game also entitled ‘dreidel’. There’s a pot (usually ‘gelt’, or chocolate coins) and each letter results in a different action (you either take none, a quarter, half or all of the pot until none remains). It’s kind of fun for a round, but really not all that exhilarating. A menorah has six branches, with a seventh for the shamash (the middle candle), while a hanukkiah — which is what is often confused with a menorah — actually has eight branches (one for each day of Hanukkah) plus a ninth for the shamash.
Happy holidays everyone!