But my mother didn’t want me to sit on his lap. She told me it wasn’t our holiday. Finally, when I was eight, I got my chance – my mother was distracted in the shoe department. I felt terribly guilty as I mounted Santa’s lap. I was being disloyal to my family and my faith. So instead of asking for the Hot Wheels set I wanted, I blurted out, “I’m Jewish.” Santa leaned close, his beard tickling my cheek, and whispered, “So am I.”
Thus ended my Santa obsession. Apparently, he was just a guy from my neighborhood, playing a role. The forbidden Christmas tree shone a little less brightly for me after that.
And I turned my attention back to Hanukkah, which unfortunately for eight-year-old-Hot Wheels-craving kids is really just a minor holiday. It falls behind more important festivals most non-Jews have never heard of: Sukkot, Purim, Tu Bishvat. Hanukkah commemorates a battle in which Jewish forces, fighting for the right to practice their religion, overthrew a Syrian dictator in the second century BC. And then, when the Jews went about cleaning up the Temple, which had been desecrated, they lit a candelabra (called a menorah) and the meager one-day supply of oil burned for eight days. And so in another Christmas-like coincidence, the holiday includes a miracle and lights.
But really it’s a holiday that celebrates Jewish resolve against assimilation. Which is ironic, considering it’s the only Jewish holiday that’s been assimilated.