Well, the menorah is out of storage, my refrigerator is stocked with frozen latkes, and there are dreidels festively strewn across my dining room table. Yep, all of that can mean only one thing: IT'S CHRISTMAS TIME! Well, sure it's Hanukkah too, but I hardly think the contents of my Jewish home mean anything to the world at large. Still, the more observant of you might have noticed sad little Hanukkah displays occupying half a shelf at your local drug store or card shop, while the adjoining aisles explode with an orgasmic offering of candy canes, stockings, and dancing Santas.
And in your curiosity, you might have turned and asked some of the following questions to a neighboring Hebrew. Lord knows I get these ever year, so I thought I'd take care of them all in one shot. Right here:
1. "Is Hanukkah like the most important Jewish holiday?"
No. It's actually one of the least important Jewish holidays. In fact, it's pretty much a mere historical rememberance. Y'see, in ancient Syria, almost two hundred years before Jesus was a sparkle in his father's immaculate pants, King Antiochus essentially outlawed the practice of Judaism and desecrated the temple in a pretty nasty way. (Slaughtered pigs there. Dick Move). In any event, that desecration sparked a revolt. Ultimately, Judah Maccabee led a band of guerrillas against the Syrian Army and... won. And since we Jews wouldn't be used to kicking military ass for another 2000 years with the creation of the Israeli military, it was a big deal. We made a holiday out of it.
2. "Really? Are you sure? Then why is Hanukkah like the only Jewish holiday I almost sort of know about?"
Yom Kippur. The day of atonement. Now that's a big Jewish holiday. Happens in the fall. The only reason Gentiles think Hanukkah is important at all is because it takes place around Christmas. And because it's next to Christmas, we Jews want to join in the reindeer games too and do fun holiday things like giving gifts and singing silly songs. But we only do that because Hanukkah is such a nothing of a holiday. If we were celebrating something important like Yom Kippur, we'd never pervert it with presents and candy. Y'know, just like you guys wouldn't mess around with one of your important Christian holidays. Oh, right. I guess I can see how you got confused.
3. "So what's the miracle? Something about one day's worth of oil burning for eight days?"
Yes, and then the Easter Bunny and Santa used that burning oil to light their way as they traveled to the land of vaguely retarded Holiday stories you tell small children. Yeah, that's the story of Hanukkah. Because when you have a silly little holiday, it's not really a big deal to have a story for the kids. The real miracle is that a bunch of random guerrilla Jews -the Maccabees-were able to avoid the destruction of our faith and thwart off the entire Syrian army. But it's hard to write catchy jingles about a failed cultural/religious genocide. And the image of randomly sabotaging a Syrian patrol unit with slingshots and spears just isn't as festive as eight pretty candles.
4. "Why Does It Keep Changing Date?"
I know this is going to blow the mind of anyone who thinks the world started 2010 years ago, but we Jews have been existing and recording time for over 5,000 years. And especially as we had to keep track of the days of the week so we could, y'know, honor the eight Commandment to "remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy" we couldn't wait around 3500 years for the Greeks to invent a calendar. Was it the Greeks? Not sure. I know Julius Cesar adopted the solar-based calendar of Alexandria in 46 B.C. and in 1561 Pope Gregory XIII, oh whatever. None of these people are Jews. Moving on.
The Hebrew calendar is moon-based and does not gibe exactly with the Gregorian calendar. So while Hanukkah occurs consistently on the 25th day of Kislev on the Jewish calendar, that date moves a bit when transferred to the Gregorian calendar. Sorta like when you cut and paste some text from the internet into a word doc. Most of if it's there, but the spacings off and you get a few random wing dings. Yes, it's exactly like that.
5. "Is it Chanukah or Hanukkah?"
Well, since it's a Hebrew word and Hebrew uses an entirely different alphabet with different sounds it kinda doesn't matter. It's both. Or neither. Hell, before spell check even I had spelled it about 4 different ways in the rough draft of this column. The point is, who cares? It's just an English approximation and, unlike Christmas, you can't make a catchy bumper sticker out of it's spelling, unless, wait a minute...
6. "Do you really get a present every night and if you do, is it just like socks?"
Good question. Unfortunately, the Talmud, which typically gives four Rabbinical interpretations of every section of the Torah is strangely silent on the issue. Oh, wait, maybe that's because the Torah was written thousands of years before Hanukkah occurred. Yeah, there's no section on gift-giving in the first five books of Moses. It doesn't matter. It's whatever your family does. Personally, I got a lot of Mad magazines growing up. And sometimes, because it is eight days long, a Cracked. (Oh no he di'n't. Yeah, I totes did).
7. "What's that chocolate money you're eating and why?"
It's called gelt. Hanukkah gelt. Yeah, on Hanukkah we feed our children chocolate money. I have no idea why. None. But I agree, it's a bad idea for overcoming stereotypes. A really bad idea. Like the worst idea ever. Well, not ever. Babtized baby blood cookies would be worse. Or having a Hanukkah party with a pin the thorny crown on the false prophet game. That too. But still, I think we can all agree, it's just a terrible, terrible idea.
8. "Is there a Hanukkah Harry?""
Seriously? What is wrong with you? That was a 1989 Saturday Night Live skit. Just go away. You go away now.
Subscribe to Gladstone's Hate By Numbers site or free iTunes download. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.