For Jewish people this time of year, everywhere you look there are reminders of Christmas.
The Christian holiday which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ blankets the country from the day after Thanksgiving until Dec. 25.
So last Sunday in Grass Valley, parents of approximately 30 preschoolers to high schoolers at Congregation B’nai Harim’s Hanukkah party understood the mixed feelings their children might have this time of year. The congregation is housed at the Nevada County Jewish Community Center.
“It’s difficult. I make a concerted effort to make sure they have this type of event,” said Karen Quinlan, the congregation’s religious school co-principal, at the Hanukkah party.
“Christmas permeates our surroundings this time of year,” said Quinlan, who visits her daughter’s K-to-8 grade school (Chicago Park School) annually to talk about Hanukkah with the non-Jewish students.
“Most of the kids aren’t familiar. This is my way to make my children feel their holiday is important and to show the similarities between the religions of sharing and giving,” Quinlan added.
Stan Karp of Colfax agrees this time of year is “always” difficult. About four times a week, he drives his four children aged 5 to 12 to the Grass Valley’s Jewish Community Center to provide them with a Jewish education and background.
Likewise, he and his wife bring latkes, dreidels and menorahs to their children’s classes at Colfax Elementary School during the eight-day holiday.
Based on the children’s comments at the party, however, the parents shouldn’t worry about them feeling left out. The youth weren’t upset about not celebrating Christmas. Instead, they seemed quite proud of their own holiday.
“It’s not a big issue,” said Lisa Quinlan, 12, the co-principal’s daughter. “If you’re Jewish, you’re Jewish. Some kids at my school think it’s cool.”
Aaron Penn, 16, a Bitney Springs High School student, doesn’t feel like an outsider around Christmas time. He said other students at his school are Jewish.
“As long as I stick to what I believe in, it’s fine. I believe in the Jewish religion,” Penn said.
As for Arielle Murphy, 14 and a Nevada Union High School freshman, she has the best of both worlds.
Her mother is Jewish, her father is Christian. So Murphy lights candles for Hanukkah and decorates a tree for Christmas.
Celebrating both holidays is not confusing to the freshman, it’s fun this way because of the presents and because both parents can celebrate their respective holiday.
Barbara Sanders – a 10-year-old from Rocklin who attends the Grass Valley temple – prefers Hanukkah hands down. Sanders, whose mother converted to Judaism; will spend Christmas with her grandmother just to keep her company.
“I love Hanukkah,” Sanders said. “It’s fun. You light candles each night, you get lots of chocolate playing dreidel. I think Hanukkah’s better than Christmas. You celebrate history. Christmas only lasts one day, Hanukkah lasts eight days.”
For Malkam Goldstein, 7 and a Pleasant Ridge second-grader, Hanukkah’s his second-favorite day each year, next to his birthday.
“I like Hanukkah. You get to light candles, eat latkes, play games,” said Goldstein, grinning easily as he colored his hand-drawn menorah.
Besides the fun and games, Hanukkah presents the perfect time to promote understanding between the different cultures.
Jaymee Kirby, a Christian, has enthusiastically attended Hanukkah parties here at the Jewish Community Center for the last three years with best friend Rebekka Karp, 9 and a fourth-grader at Colfax Elementary School.
“It’s fun to see what other religions are like,” said Kirby, who returns the favor by having Karp visit her house on Christmas.
“Her family really decorates a Christmas tree. They really know how to!,” Karp exclaimed.
“It’s really fun to teach (your friends) about our celebrations. It helps you understand other
religions,” Karp said.
A time for spiritual rededication
Hanukkah, which starts at sundown tonight, is not a Jewish Christmas; it’s a holiday that means rededication.
In 168 B.C., Jews who practiced their religion were massacred. A small Jewish army led by Judah Mattathais was able to defeat a much larger, organized Syrian army. Mattathais earned the name Judah Maccabee which means “Judah, the hammer.”
After the Jews’ surprising victory, which enabled them to continue their religious practices; the Maccabees found only one day’s supply of oil to light the Menorah or eternal light at the Temple.
Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days and nights. For this reason, Jews today light candles during the holiday, adding one more candle each night to the menorah.
Also called the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the third month of the Jewish calendar.
Hanukkah traditions include eating latkes (potato pancakes) and playing dreidel, a game played with a spinning top. A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters which translates to “a great miracle happened there.”
In addition to celebrating the miracle of the lights, Hanukkah celebrates religious freedom.
– By Carol Feineman
On a lighter Note
Chanukah is the traditional spelling of Hanukkah and comedian Adam Sandler uses it in his recently-released song spoof, 3Chanukah Song Part III.² Here1s a few lines:
3Chanukah is the Festival of Lights/One day of presents? Hell, no, we get 8 Crazy Nights/But if you still feel like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree/I guess my first two songs didn1t do it for you/So here comes number three……²
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