FRESH YARN presents:

In Defense of Hanukkah
by Barbara Rushkoff

I used to feel ripped off around Christmas when I was a kid. Sure, at Hanukkah time we got presents but we didn't have anything cool like Santa Claus or candy canes or drunken parties where people go home with strangers and see their underpants. They had trees; we had plastic menorahs. They had gingerbread houses; we had chocolate coins in mesh bags. They had roasted meats and we had greasy potato pancakes. Well, we sort of win on that one.

As I got older, though, I took a new stance and that was "Christmas is so commercial and Hanukkah keeps it real." I was now a Proud Jew and wasn't afraid to show it. So instead of caving into people decorating my desk in synthetic garlands or cut out pictures of over-excited reindeer, I got all Whitney on everybody, did a neck ring and proclaimed that I don't celebrate Christmas. Sure I was usually the only person (Jews included) who shunned the merry decorations but that made me a rebel. Just like the Maccabees, the heroes of Hanukkah!

Now don't call me a hater. I don't hate Christmas at all. In fact there are many things I love about it: that TV special where the elf wants to be a dentist, egg nog, free cookie platters at work and the pretty, pretty lights and the insane way people embellish their houses (ain't nothing better than that.) I love decorating Christmas trees and watching holiday movies where Rosemary Clooney sings and I especially love the I Love Lucy marathon they run every Christmas day just as I'm about to kill myself because they are running It's A Wonderful Life yet again. I just get a little angry that Hanukkah doesn't have all that schmaltz. Where's our TV special? Where's our Bing Crosby movie? Why aren't elves Jewish? (Dentists are!)

Then I realized that we have something better. We have fire. Think about it. The whole shpiel of Hanukkah is lighting the menorah to commemorate the miracle of the lamp oil that lasted for eight days (whatever.) Little kids like myself were handed matches and told to light the candles. I remember standing mesmerized in front of the flames as my mother and father gave us our nightly presents. It felt so dangerous. And in my book, just like rock beats scissors, danger beats tinsel.

I think of this as I gaze at the Empire State Building in all its green and red glory (it's white and blue for only one day in December). It used to make me mad but now I just think of Hanukkah and fire and I feel, well, I feel like a big Jew. And I like it.


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