Jewish Journal

The Jewish Christmas: Rosh HaShana vs. Hannukah

Ian Shulman / Vienna

September 19, 2012 | 7:53 am

People unfamiliar with Judaism often label Hannukah as ‘the Jewish Christmas’. The main argument of parallel lovers here is that Hannukah usually falls in December. Some try to go deeper though, and claim that the real Jewish Christmas is Rosh HaShana, basing this comparison on the spiritual meaning rather than the calendar. Let’s try to find out which holiday is the true Jewish Christmas and why do we need one at all?

Let’s face it: today Christmas is not only the key Christian holiday, but also a symbol of a warm family holiday; a high time to be together with your loved ones, think about the things you value, reconsider your deeds and ask for forgiveness. This modern image of Christmas was recreated by Charles Dickens. Probably the best-known Christmas story ‘A Christmas Carol’ is dedicated to an impressive human transformation from a grumpy Christmas-denier to a happy simple man rejoicing the high holiday, meanwhile reminding us of the core values of this day. The work has made a significant impact, turning the slightly forgotten holiday into the key event of the year.

In other words, Dickens has shown us that Christmas is too magnificent to be neglected. The book makes you want to celebrate the fete. But as the holiday is always bound to the religion it belongs to, the values are usually universal.

Honestly, the image of Hannukah has a lot in common with the image of Christmas. It is probably the main family festival of the Jewish year. Sweet latkes, Hannukiah candles, games, presents - don’t we have similar things on December 25th? Some may argue that Christians give their children toys while the Jews have a custom of presenting money - yet both of the festivals have a common ‘family-home-warmth’ vibe.

Rosh HaShana has its own calendar similarity with Christmas too. Even though it usually falls on September/October and not December, both holidays mark the start of the new year - Rosh HaShana being the Jewish New Year itself and Christmas being just five days before January 1st. But the crucial aspect of Rosh HaShana and the following Ten Days of Repentance ending with Yom Kippur is repentance, asking for forgiveness and striving for improvement. This is a crucial point of Christmas too. Referring to Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ again, repentance was the driving force which made Ebenezer Scrooge ‘believe’ in Christmas.

Of course, there is no Jewish Christmas, just as there is no Christian Hannukah or Christian Rosh HaShana. But would you like to read a story? It would go like this: a greedy Jewish businessman doesn’t believe in, let’s say, Hannukah. His nephew comes to say ‘Happy Hannukah’, but all he gets from his uncle is ‘Oy vey!’ (and no Hannukeh Geld). Next night he got visited by three ghosts - Ghost of Hannukah Past, Ghost of Hannukah Present and Ghost of Hannukah Future, of course. And guess what? He wakes up and says: ‘Happy Hannukah!’...

As long as Dickens’ fans are OK with that, such story should exist. Happy holidays!

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