It’s not your grandmother’s Hanukkah anymore! Hanukkah has roared past Latkes sizzling in oil and coin shaped chocolate Gelt. Leaving the Gelt and the guilt of fried foods aside, we have entered the age of Hanukkah apps, eco-friendly menorahs, Hanukkah YouTube videos, and even Hanukkah Manicures. Yes, for the ultimate expression of publicizing the wonders of Hanukkah you can have a Maccabean manicure with Dreidels on one hand, and Hanukkah menorahs on the other.
What ever happened to your grandmother’s Hanukkah? How have we moved from simple potato Latkes to a booming market of Hanukkah products? In the early 1900s, many of the new Jewish immigrants to America wanted to become Yankees, “real Americans.” They often set aside their traditional practices in order not to appear different. After all, in the eyes of many Jewish immigrants, Christmas, which often coincided with Hanukkah, was the “American holiday.” By the 1950s, however, most American Jews were at a stage where they no longer had to “fit” and assimilate into the dominant culture; they had become confident and comfortable celebrating their own Jewish identities. The contagious American holiday spirit, coupled with American capitalism, propelled Hanukkah in a new direction. As Hanukkah goods, candies, and decorations became commercially available, the holiday itself became more widely celebrated.
This spirited celebration of Hanukkah, however, is not an entirely new phenomenon. The Talmud, a compendium of Jewish law that was redacted in the 5th century, considers Hanukkah to be a very significant holiday. The Talmud describes “publicizing the miracle” of the oil as a guiding principle of Hanukkah. When the ancient Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated, after having been desecrated by the Greeks, only one flask of proper oil remained in the temple. Miraculously, this tiny flask of oil fueled the Temple’s Menorah for eight nights.
The growing industry of Hanukkah goods allows American Jews to both feel a part of the holiday season and continue the Talmud’s tradition of publicizing the miracle. This Hanukkah, let’s light the menorah and maybe even sport a Midrash Manicure!