No, Hanukkah is NOT the “Jewish Christmas.” There is no “Jewish Christmas.” But there is Jewbilee on December 24 at Grumpy’s Bar, Fiddler on the Roof and desserts on December 24 at the Minneapolis Jewish Community Center, the Tzedakah Bowl at the Metrodome on December 25, and a double feature of Israel films at the St. Paul Jewish Community Center on December 25.
The eight days of Hanukkah ended December 12 this year. Though the dates of Hanukkah follow the lunar calendar, changing every year, it always falls some time during December. The proximity of Hanukkah to Christmas has elevated a relatively minor religious holiday to star status in the United States.
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple after a successful rebellion ousted foreign occupiers. The main observance is lighting of candles for eight nights, recalling a miraculous lamp that burned for eight nights on a single night’s supply of oil. Because oil fueled the miracle, traditional Hanukkah foods are fried in oil – latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). Playing games with a dreidel (four-sided top) is also traditional.
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Jewbilee – sponsored by Jewish Community Action. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gift-giving has become a big part of Hanukkah in the United States, largely in response to Christmas. With Christmas carols sounding in stores and Santas on street corners, Christmas can seem inescapable.
“Where I grew up, there was a really big Jewish community, so everything wasn’t totally Christmas-ed out,” Carin Mrotz recalls. “And a few decades ago everything wasn’t totally Christmas-ed out the way it is today. We don’t want everything to be Hanukkah but – it’s like the whole world shuts down for Christmas. … I don’t want to get rid of everything Christmas – just have a break from it. “
Mrotz, one of the organizers of Jewbilee, says it began with parties in people’s homes on December 24. The parties soon outgrew the spaces. One of the DJs who had hosted parties asked Indie Jews to help. Indie Jews is an organizing initiative for independent Jews–Jews who are not affiliated with congregations. Under the sponsorship of Indie Jews and Jewish community action, Jewbilee was born three years ago. Last year, about 400 people attended the party. This year’s Jewbilee starts at 9 p.m. at Grumpy’s Bar, 1111 Washington Ave. South, Minneapolis and features DJs, live music, a Hanukkah gift raffle and free Chinese food.
Danny Sigelman, who is a DJ at the Current and at Jewbilee, said the event is communal and creates something out of the traditional nothing-to-do feeling of the holiday. It’s a participatory event, not a performance where people stand and watch something happen. Many non-Jews who do not celebrate Christmas also attend.
Young and old enjoy dancing away the night, says Mrotz. “An older guy – retirement age – came up about 2 a.m. last year. He said he had lived in the Twin Cities Jewish community his entire life and really appreciated having something like this, a place to party on a night when we never have anything to do.”
While Jewbilee is adults-only, the December 25 Tzedakah Ball at the Metrodome is definitely for families. The day starts at 9 a.m. with breakfast, kids activities and a friendly game of football. Football tournaments, more food and cheerleaders continue throughout the day. The Tzedakah Ball is sponsored by the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and St. Paul United Jewish Fund and Council.
The Minneapolis and St. Paul Jewish Community Centers also offer seasonal entertainment. Minneapolis offers “Fiddler on the Roof” on the evening of December 24. St. Paul has a double feature of “Shalom Sesame: The Land of Israel” and “Sallah” on December 25.