Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after an usurping Syrian-Greek king who outlawed Jewish practice. For thousands of years, the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah has been celebrated all over the world, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that it became a major holiday event in the United States.
The Birth of Hanukkah Lite in America
With the immigration of Eastern European Jews in the 19th century, Hanukkah transformed from a simple Jewish holiday celebration into a major American holiday event. Jews were keen to celebrate popular, secular holidays without sacrificing their Jewish identity and created “Hanukkah Lite” – hybrid celebrations where Jewish and American customs came together. Hanukkah became more heavily associated with Christmas, with more emphasis placed on gift-giving, celebrations with friends and family, and even Santa Claus.
Hanukkah – Christmas Hybrid Customs
Hanukkah celebrations in America morphed into a hybrid of Christmas and Jewish traditions. American-Jewish families began to give Hanukkah gifts, play dreidel games, and eat doughnuts in the same way that they did Christmas gifts, secret Santas, and Christmas cake. Over time, Hanukkah outgrew its religious roots in its American incarnation and instead morphed into an “all-American” holiday.
In the 1940s, Jewish magazines started printing Hanukkah recipes that were focused on goodies rather than traditional foods. This was a conscious move to emphasize the holiday as a festive event, and it worked – Hanukkah had taken root as a major holiday event in the United States.
Re-focus on Celebrating Hanukkah Traditions
Both Jews and non-Jews alike now join in celebrating Hanukkah and its age-old traditions. It has become part of the common experience and, while it has been commercialized and the origins forgotten, it still remains a popular festival. Jews in America are now focusing their attention on re-making the connection to the original story of the Maccabees as part of their Hanukkah celebrations.
In conclusion, by hybridizing with Christmas celebrations and emphasizing fun and games over the original story, Hanukkah has become a major holiday event in the United States. Through the Jewish magazines and American-Jewish families, the holiday was given a modern makeover that has enabled it to become part of the shared experience. Now, it is more important than ever to remember the original Hanukkah story and celebrate the traditions of the Maccabees.
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Last update 2023-11-27. Price and product availability may change.