Think we can branch out this Holiday Season?


Photo courtesy of The Poetry Salon

A Hanukkiah (Hanukkah Menorah) perches in the foreground of a cluster of glistening trees. In December, three major holidays are celebrated: Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. However, in the past and recently, the US hasn’t done a good job in representing the diverse communities of people it prides itself on representing.

In an ever-evolving world, one thing remains constant: Christmas Mania. Come Nov. 1, Hallmark rolls the Christmas movies, Mariah Carey riffs on the radio, Starbucks customers craze over peppermint hot chocolate and merchants pray increased gift demand will justify their marked-up price tags.

However, these constant glaring reminders of Christianity can be isolating for people who don’t celebrate Christmas. Those who exchange gifts a week before Christmas for Hanukkah are forced to listen to nothing but Christmas jingles and can only find a subsection of non-Christmas-coded gifts in the darkest corner of Barnes & Noble.

Although the festivities are an exciting time of the year and cheer many, including myself, up, it’s disheartening that in a country with no official religion, Christmas takes over “Holiday Season.” Though it is also celebrated secularly by some, the vast majority of those who celebrate are Christian. While Christians see their traditions glorified in the media, those who don’t celebrate can’t do anything but sit back and watch as “Holiday Season” becomes “Christmas Season.”

This phenomenon has been drilled into our minds since birth. Seven-year-old me did nothing but watch Disney Channel and all I saw were “Holiday Specials” that revolved solely around one holiday: Christmas. As a Jewish girl, I would reject Hanukkah for being less “cool” and “mainstream” than Christmas. I can’t speak for those who celebrate other holidays during the holiday season, if any, but I felt embarrassed and ashamed for not celebrating Christmas.

In my mind, I was stuck with Hanukkah. I didn’t get cool stockings with my name on them or have a bright Christmas tree in my living room. Of course, I view Hanukkah differently today, but that is because I was able to unlearn what mainstream culture so aggressively taught me.

Music, too, played a huge factor in my regretful mindset. Instead of Hanukkah songs, I would hear Christmas jingles constantly on the radio, in stores and in music class. My elementary school had a “Holiday Sing-Along” that mainly played Christmas songs. As a Jewish person, I know more Christmas songs by heart than I do Hanukkah songs.

I know now that there’s nothing wrong with following traditions in my own way, but years ago, I felt I had to not only celebrate Hanukkah, but also honor why we celebrate it in a strict, religious way to compensate for the fact that it wasn’t as appealing to the rest of the country as Christmas is. I know now that it’s okay to just have a nice dinner with family and friends one night, exchange one gift and simply move on, because it’s not about the gifts or the glamor; it’s about maintaining community and celebrating a miracle with those I love.

Yes, I can always define and evolve my own traditions on my own time, but isn’t it questionable that the media in a country as diverse as the United States doesn’t make more of an effort to diversify how it represents its people?