November 30, 2012

Who Moved My Hanukkah?


 Hanukkah Disney

Since I was in elementary school, it seems I’ve had to explain Hanukkah to at least one person every year. It doesn’t bother me and I never mind giving the 3-minute version of why Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah. I don’t get in to any of the deep religious “compare and contrast” type explanational materials. A basic question just calls for a basic answer.

But when it comes to Hanukkah, there are so many ways to explain it. Some people want to know if it’s just Jewish Christmas or if Jewish people wanted something to celebrate because there was all this celebrating around Christmas. Seriously, I don’t make up the questions, I just answer them and file them away for future use (such as blog posts like this).

Recently, though, I’ve had a lot of questions about why Hanukkah keeps moving around. Last year it was mid-December. This year it’s earlier in the month. Next year it’s the end of November! Black Friday 2013 will be more like The Great Kvetch as Jews around the US lament that Hanukkah is too early.

For the record, Hanukkah is the same day every year. Has been since, well, even that’s a funny story. The first Hanukkah celebration wasn’t even really Hanukkah but was called Hanukkah. That was back in the second century BCE when particularities such as “What do we call this celebration” were overlooked. Nothing like adding to the confusion, right?

For us modern folks, Hanukkah is always the 25th of Kislev. The Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle so the Jewish months are not exactly aligned with the more secular solar-based Gregorian calendar. It’s way more complicated than can be explained here in a few sentences. The Jewish leap years add a month (take that February 29th!), which happens 7 times in every 19-year cycle. And considering that in traditional Jewish history there is really no concept of what a “day” is the 24-hour time period just complicate things. If you’ve read even the first few chapters of the bible (or Torah for that matter), you’ll recall in Genesis that G-D created a day. That day, curiously enough, began at sundown and continued until the next sundown. So, for Jewish people around the globe, sundown is the key time marker for our calendar and all associated events. Are you even more confused?

Anyway, so, a day in Genesis-created-Jewish-world is pretty easy to grasp because we lived in the Mediterranean with lots of sunshine (an oppressive Pharoah, a fearless leader who somehow split the sea but got us lost for 40 years, and flat tasteless crackers that will one day give us the deliciousness known as Matzo Crack. Or so the story goes.

Yadda, yadda, yadda, Jews move around and end up all over the world. Long before Jonathan Larson wondered how we measure a year, Jews knew how to measure a year, and a day too. Except when they started moving to Upper FrozenLandia and there was no sun to go up or down. More confusion. And you wonder why Jews flock to Florida in the winter? It’s just part of our modern DNA!

Well, now we live in a nearly borderless world and there are Jews everywhere, even most recently on the International Space Station. And we’ve adjusted to this modern secular calendar and many of us have intermingled our Jewish lives into our secular lives. So every Jewish year has been overlayed onto the Gregorian calendar and like the magic of the 8-days the oil lasted Hanukkah is slapped onto a day, usually in December. Except when we’re not paying enough attention and it’ll pop up in November and laugh at us like a woman holding the last Tickle Me Elmo on Black Friday.

All the back story is enough to glaze over anyone’s eyes, so I don’t mind that people ask me why Hanukkah isn’t the same day every year. And for many Jewish people, it does seem to sneak up on us too. That’s why some smarty invented the smart phone and alert notifications! OK, that’s not the only reason, but I’m sure it was one of the top 5 or so.

Now that you know all there is to know about the ping-pong of Hanukkah on your (likely digital) calendar, I bid you crispy latkes and sweet sufganiyot – all calorie-free as all ritual-oriented food is (because I read that on the internt, so it’s true!).

Any other questions about Hanukkah? Ask away. I’m happy to explain them.



Estelle Sobel Erasmus November 30, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Love so many things about this post. The line: Black Friday 2013 will be more like The Great Kvetch as Jews around the US lament that Hanukkah is too early, the reference to Tickle me Elmo and even getting in a mention of Jonathan Larson! Way to provide info in an entertaining way!

Sara November 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Thank you, Estelle, for visiting and commenting. I’m glad you saw both the humor and teaching in my post. ~ Sara

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