Every year, I try to learn something new about the Jewish holidays, something outside of my Hebrew school classroom – this year I learned that there are 16 different ways to spell Hanukkah. Sixteen different ways to spell a holiday that lasts eight wonderful nights, but gets significantly less excitement and celebration than Christmas, which is spelled one way and lasts one day (and I suppose one night).
Immediately after Thanksgiving, we are bombarded with the Christmas spirit in almost every aspect of our lives- in the forms of television commercials, advertisements on social media, suggestions on Amazon, walking into a Target, grocery shopping, and even in lively conversations at the office. While one could blame the lack of Chanukah spirit on its peculiar timing (never falling on the same date, always early or late, never on time), I am more inclined to believe that most of the population just assumes that most of the population celebrates Christmas.
While this assumption was built on evidence from marketing and advertisements, it was further solidified in my entry into corporate America, where the culmination of Thanksgiving gives way to the start of the Christmas season. My old team used to get festive decorations around the holiday season. The next work day after Thanksgiving we would come back to holiday stickers of lights, reindeer and snowflakes scattered around the office space, and stockings on our cubes. This team knew I was Jewish; in fact, there were two of us. Because of this, the team member in charge of decorating made sure to ask us first if we were comfortable with the stockings on our desks, and let us know that of all the stocking choices, she specifically selected the two more “winter” themed rather than Santa themed (as if this made it more OK). That made me laugh. Honestly, I was fine with the stocking, it did not make me uncomfortable, but it did indicate that everyone in our office was getting into the Christmas spirit; it gave the appearance that everyone was celebrating and excited for the holiday. To our credit, that year my Jewish coworker and I brought in dreidels and gelt and taught everyone how to play dreidel in a team meeting.
This year, my new team is not quite as festive. There are no decorations, but the “what are your plans for Christmas?” is a question frequently asked. The blanket question loaded with the assumption that the person being asked is indeed celebrating Christmas. Typically I respond with my plans for the “holidays,” not wanting to overcorrect, but wanting to be more politically correct with my verbiage. Some people recognize the star I wear around my neck (which I have worn every day since I was 12), laugh and correct themselves, asking about the holidays, and on a rare occasion, specifying Hanukkah. Surprisingly this year, on Friday, Nov. 30, before leaving the office for the weekend my new team wished me a “Happy Chanukkah.” I am not sure they know what the holiday is about, or recognize it lasts 8 days, but the effort and recognition were there, to which I am appreciative.
I say surprise and appreciative – terms no one celebrating Christmas ever has to use when thinking about holiday wishes from coworkers, or the larger corporate America. I wish I was not surprised, or I did not have to appreciate the small gestures, because I wish it was more commonplace. While I wish people paid as much attention to a holiday spelled 16 different ways and lasting 8 nights as they did to one spelled one way, lasting a single night, what I wish for more is the recognition that everyone does not celebrate Christmas, and that the blanket Christmas greeting or Christmas inquiry could be replaced with a blanket holiday one instead.