Jewish students balance contrasting holidays

A menorah with a Star of David at the center sits on display in the Trauner household (Courtesy photo: Rachel Trauner)
A menorah with a Star of David at the center sits on display in the Trauner household. (Courtesy: R. Trauner)

By Jamie Moddelmog, Staff–

As the temperatures drop and the days get shorter, Christmas spirit appears all over town. However, as many students hang up stockings and set up a tree, sophomore Rachel Trauner’s house is being decorated with the Star of David, bowls of gelt (chocolate coins) and a magnificent golden-brown menorah.

Even as America’s December is dominated by red and green, many keep in touch with their heritage and faith by celebrating Hanukkah, the eight-day Festival of Lights commemorating the re-dedication of the second temple of Jerusalem. In modern families, people celebrate the holiday for a variety of different reasons, in many different ways and have different views on the dominant December holiday of Christmas.

Although the overwhelming retail extravaganza has arguably diluted the religious meanings of Christmas, some Jewish families still object to the idea of celebrating a Christian holiday.

“My parents had us celebrating Hanukkah to teach us that we were Jewish, and not Christian,” Trauner said.

However, some believe that the two holidays share very similar themes.

“What is similar about Christmas and Hanukkah […] they both have a metaphor of light [candle and star], they both have themes of hope, they both have a tradition of gifts. What is different?” Davis Unitarian Church campus minister Laura Thompson said.

Many interfaith families celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas.

“My dad grew up Jewish and he wanted his kids to grow up Jewish […]” Da Vinci sophomore Davis Greenfield said. “We still do some Christmas traditions with [my mom’s] parents.” Greenfield and his family usually go out to brunch on Christmas morning and he receives a present or two from his grandparents.

Sometimes the Jewish holiday does not even fall close to Christmas.

The Trauner family once celebrated a night of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving dinner simultaneously. Her grandparents’ fireplace, together with the lit candles on the menorah, led to enough smoke to ruin their Thanksgiving dinner. The family looks back on the experience and laughs.

“[Hanukkah is] actually not that important of a Jewish holiday, like Passover is, but it’s basically the Jewish Christmas,” Trauner said. “I always wanted to meet Santa. My parents had Santa when I was a toddler and then stopped when I got a little older.”

Trauner says some of her friends’ families have made up replacements to Santa such as the “Hanukkah fairy,” somewhat of a cross between Santa and the tooth fairy, who leaves presents out by the menorah each night while the children are sleeping.

Although her family doesn’t celebrate it, Trauner still enjoys the Christmas spirit.

“I always participate in Secret Santa with my friends. My family never put up lights, but we still drive around the neighborhood and look at other people’s Christmas lights. It’s fun,” she said. “I’m not gonna cry if someone says ‘Merry Christmas’ to me instead of ‘Happy Holidays.'”

For Trauner, Hanukkah is about celebrating Jewish traditions. She enjoys making latkes, a traditional Hanukkah dish, with her grandmother, and says celebrating the holiday connects her to her Jewish culture.

“I think the meanings are very important and I also think that traditions are very important. I’m not a big fan of combining holidays as I do see that it might lessen the value of them,” Thompson said.


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