Hanukkah not just a Christmas equivalent

The Christmas story is commonly told, but the holiday leaves other religious festivals out in the cold. Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday beginning on Dec. 22 this year, has been subject to misconceptions and, like other holidays, has drifted from its true meaning. Hillel , the Jewish student center at the University of Minnesota, will host a party to celebrate the âÄúfestival of lightsâÄù Wednesday night. Hanukkah celebrates religious freedom, which reinforces beliefs in God and miracles, said Yoni Saadi , president of Sigma Alpha Mu, the Jewish fraternity on campus. Although itâÄôs a popular holiday for Jews, it is not their most sacred âÄî in fact, the story isnâÄôt even mentioned in the Torah. Alex Lubet , the Hillel Board of Directors president and a music professor at the University, said Hanukkah doesnâÄôt reflect the full depth of Judaism. Other more sacred holidays include Passover and Yom Kippur. Saadi said itâÄôs become âÄúsomewhat of the equivalent of ChristmasâÄù solely because of the tradition of gift-giving. âÄúItâÄôs become something more of what itâÄôs not âÄî not part of its true identity anymore,âÄù he said. Laura Supkoff , a Jewish University graduate student, said itâÄôs not a holiday that people would take off work to celebrate. âÄúIt receives a lot more attention than it actually should, just because Christmas is at the same time,âÄù she said. Lubet said Jews felt pressure to have a winter holiday to give gifts with the large amount of publicity for the Christmas season. He said when his kids were little, he would encourage them to invite their non-Jewish friends over to see what Hanukkah was all about. âÄúWe live in a society where weâÄôre very integrated,âÄù Lubet said. âÄúJews have fought really, really hard for the right to be citizens, full members of the society.âÄù Lubet said heâÄôs proud of the fact that Jews are considered normal members of American society even though they may have had to give up part of their identity. âÄúItâÄôs a balancing act,âÄù he said. The beliefs stem from HanukkahâÄôs story, when the Maccabees, a small Jewish army, battled the larger Hellenists, Hillel Director Sarah Routman said. After the Hellenists destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem, the Maccabees came back to find one jar of oil that could only burn for one day, Routman said. The miracle was that the oil lasted for eight days while the Macabees traveled, which is now signified by the eight days of Hanukkah. Routman explained some of the primary traditions of Hanukkah, one being the lighting of the menorah , which holds nine candles. The eight smaller candles are lit each day during Hanukkah to signify the duration of the burning oil, and the center candle stays lit through the holiday. Another is playing dreidel, a gambling game that uses a four-sided top with a message on each side. When the messages are put together, the literally translation is âÄúa great miracle happened there,âÄù Routman said. Lubet said itâÄôs important to understand the beliefs of other religions and why they celebrate certain holidays. âÄúWe need to remember that this is not a country just of Christians or Jews,âÄù he said.