Yesterday was the last night of Chanukah, so my family and I sat down to light the final set of eight candles. We sang the prayers, ate some gelt, and we did a Chanukah Mad Lib, as per Cohen tradition.
Being a Jewish child living in America, I’ve learned a lot about how different Judaism is from other major religions. In the past, while my friends would celebrate Christmas by building grandiose gingerbread houses and hanging glass ornaments, I would share latkes with my family and light the candles, just as usual.
Because the Jewish calendar is set on a lunar cycle, the dates of the holidays change by as much as a month every year. This year, Chanukah falls about two weeks before Christmas, and it gives me extra time to notice just how focused the media has become on the gift-giving aspect of Christmas.
Lately, I’ve noticed that the holidays have become centered around gift giving and not around family. This is exemplified by the numerous commercials and billboard signs that pressure people into pouncing on the latest sale. I don’t think I’ve been able to watch television in the past month without seeing a commercial about the Christmas sale at some hardware/electronics/clothing store and how I should be in the holiday spirit because the iPhone 5 is 20% off this week.
It makes me uncomfortable to be watching New Girl or to be listening to 99.7 FM and suddenly start hearing jingle bells or carolers in the background while some voice barks at me about how it’s the happiest time of year, oh, and by the way, have you gotten into Macy’s to see our sale?
I understand that Christmas is in part about gift-exchange, but are we focusing too much on the materialistic part of it?
The holiday season is about spending time with your family and about setting aside time from the day to make sure that at least 30 minutes can be spent together, even if that 30 minutes is just a game of dreidel, or sitting around eating a gingerbread house.
Even though Chanukah has fallen on a school week, every one of the past eight nights, my family has left our computers and our homework, gotten together in our living room, and spent some quality time together talking about our days while one of us lights the candles.
That is what the holidays are about. Not gift giving, or being bombarded with Best Buy ads, or dragging yourself to the nearest convenience store to pick something up because you forgot to do your gift shopping beforehand.
The consumerist aspect of the holidays detracts from the familial aspect, and it also makes kids who aren’t Christian feel left out. During this time of year, it almost feels like a sin to not be going tree shopping, picking out ornaments, or setting out cookies for Santa.
But, to end on a positive note: make sure to set aside time this holiday season to spend with your loved ones, and if you have some spare time, maybe you can check out the sales and hit the mall. But, try to remember that not everything is about gift-giving this season.