By Debra Rubin/Times of Israel
In 1860s Cincinnati, Rabbi Max Lilienthal noticed that many Jews were enjoying German Christmas customs, with decorated trees and a Kris Kringle figure. Having preached in some churches, he also noticed the tendency toward Christmas festivities and gifts that kept children interested in religion and their church.
Why not, he said, have Hanukkah festivals and pageants, with gifts for the kids?
“The children shall have it as a day of rejoicing [in] our religion,” Lilienthal explained. “Chanukah can be celebrated to delight young and old.”
In Baltimore, future Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold, too, believed that Hanukkah celebrations needed to be reshaped in line with Christmas ones.
“Christmas truly fulfills its mission of bringing peace and good will to men. All this and more, Chanuka should be to us,” she wrote in the New York Jewish Messenger in 1879.
And in 1940s New Orleans, there were the “Hanukkah doors,” a tradition among Jewish members of the women’s garden club. The women would cover their front doors with plain brown paper or gift-wrap and then decorate them with Mardi Gras beads, acorns, pine cones, popcorn, drinking straws, beans, rice, bottle tops and whatever else was handy around the house, creating hanukkiyot, scenes of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, the Western Wall or the Eternal Light.
Next to the doors, they’d put an explanation of the image.
Obviously, it’s not just in recent years that Jews have looked to Christmas and decided that Hanukkah should take on more prominence. READ MORE
An image from ‘Hanukkah in America: A History’ features Fredda Sacharows collection of hanukkiyot/Courtesy New York University Press