People make such a big thing about Christmas envy. Oh, you poor Jewish thing, you must've hated growing up watching your friends and their Christmas this and Santa that. Trees and lights and ham and lamb and mint sauce (I still don't understand the mint sauce, can some gentile out there enlighten me?) and candy canes and TV specials and stockings. You poor deprived child. Boo hoo and wah.
But not really. The thing is, I like Hanukkah. Always did. You get to play with fire -- in front of your parents, no less -- you get to hear a cool story about war and miracles, and you get eight nights of presents. And no matter what Lewis Black tells you about back-to-school holidays, some of us actually got toys at Hanukkah. Like the Cabbage Patch dolls and the Pound Puppies and the Nintendo and could I be dating myself any more here? Anyway, Christmas-Hanukkah never bothered me.
(Easter-Passover, that bugged me. Macaroons? Chocolate bunnies? No comparison.)
What I'm realizing, though, is that when it comes to the sheer fun quotient, Hanukkah can't compete. It's just outclassed.
We took kiddo to see Santa on Saturday -- right, the day it snowed, and then tried to find a tree even though there was snow in our eyes the whole time -- and went to our town's tree lighting on Sunday. He had a blast. He ran right up to Santa, high-fived him, sat on his lap, said thanks for the candy cane, and then while we were drinking our hot cider he ran back over to Santa and scored a second picture. Probably would've shot for a third if we hadn't dragged him outside to the tree lot. We'd have an album full of him mugging with Santa.
For the tree lighting, everybody gathered outside the municipal building while every single fire truck and ambulance the town owns (or it felt that way, anyway) came screaming into the lot, followed by Santa on a smaller truck. Kids shrieked when they saw him. Santa is a rock star! Then everyone looked up at the big tree at the top of the hill and counted down to 1, when the tree magically lit up in primary colors. And then inside for cupcakes and hot chocolate, plus pictures with Santa (absolutely not, it was a mile-long line).
Such excitement, such drama. Even I got a thrill when I knelt next to kiddo and pointed: "Look, here comes Santa! Look at the tree, they're turning on the lights!" It draws you in. I started to wonder what it would've been like for me, celebrating these things as a kid. What would it have felt like? What's it like to see Santa for the first time, and to believe in him? Kiddo looked dazzled.
(I am aware that Santa is not actually the point of the holiday. We'll tackle that part, too, when kiddo is old enough to understand a little better. Right now I'm focusing on the more secular aspects.)
Hanukkah has a pretty compelling story in its own right, but it's a more quiet sort of celebration. It's not even a major holiday on the Jewish calendar, nowhere near the status of Passover or the High Holy Days. Any attempts to raise it up to the level of Christmas are -- let's face it -- Christmas envy.
We celebrate both, obviously, but we don't mush them together. They're separate holidays held for separate reasons and that needs to be acknowledged. Still I wonder how much more we'll have to push to make Hanukkah stick in the kids' minds. Because Christmas has a magic that's hard to resist.