Regardless of religious or cultural roots, some may view holidays as commercialized in the United States. While this is often viewed in a negative light, not everyone believes this commercialization deserves such a bad reputation.
“I don’t think it should be looked upon as a negative that it’s commercialized because any exposure to the Jewish faith is important,” sophomore Ethan Schwartz said.
Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration to honor the rededication of the Jewish temple after it was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers in the second century B.C. and Jews were forbidden from practicing their religion. In order to purify the temple once they regained power, Jewish people burned ritual oil for eight days, even though there only should have been enough oil to burn for one day.
Although it is actually a minor holiday in terms of Jewish law, it has become more popular in modern practice because of the increased commercialization of Christmas, said Rabbi Sue Silberberg, director of the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center. Hanukkah is celebrated according to the lunar calendar, so the specific dates change each year, but it is always in close proximity to Christmas.
“It has become a much more celebrated holiday because of Christmas, although it is a completely different celebration,” she said. “Now, it’s commercialized in the stores just like Christmas.”
Like Schwartz, Silberberg said the commercialization of the holiday does not hinder the Jewish faith.
“It’s important for many students because it’s a way to be proud of their Judaism,” she said.
Sophomore Ariel Shoffet said that having an opportunity to openly celebrate her faith is especially important because of the oppression that Jewish people have faced in the past.
“It’s just a big party celebrating being Jewish and not having to hide it or be ashamed in the slightest,” she said.
During typical Hanukkah celebrations, families will come together each night to light one of eight candles in a menorah, the candle holder representing the eight days that the oil burned. After lighting the candle, families will eat together and play games such as dreidel. The dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, is spun and depending on which side it lands on the winner receives chocolate coins called gelts.
Shoffet recalled celebrating Hanukkah in Israel when she traveled there during a gap year in 2015. Her favorite part, she said, was being able to share in the traditions with her late grandfather.
“Looking back on it, especially now after he’s passed away, I really value how I got to light candles with him,” she said. “That and beating him in dreidel and taking all of his chocolate gelts were really great moments.”
Schwartz said his family does not have any big traditions, but just being able to spend time with loved ones is enough.
“Personally, it’s my favorite holiday,” he said. “It’s nice to have something that unites Jews together.”