Religious tolerance during holiday season should be based on knowledge, not ignorance


It’s Christmas time again. This means Christmas lights lining the streets, Christmas decorations lining the walls of stores and Christmas stockings lining our hearths — activities which leaves out religious minorities in the U.S., such as people of the Jewish faith.

It’s easy for the majority to ignore the minority except for when they feel an obligation to be politically correct. Most people in the majority today are aware of Hanukkah as a holiday. Unfortunately, just because we’re aware of it and OK with other people celebrating it doesn’t mean we actually understand its significance. 

Typically, when one mentions Hanukkah, several misconceptions perpetuated by society pop into my head. “It’s one of the most important Jewish holidays! It’s like the Jewish Christmas! Kids get presents for eight days because the oil in the lamp lasted for eight days!”

However, how much of this is actually true? 

The truth is, Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas.” Traditionally, it’s not even a major holiday. Hanukkah is a minor holiday to commemorate the rededication of the Temple after an attempted religious genocide by the Greeks. At the time of the rededication, there was hardly any oil left in the lamp that hadn’t been defiled by the Greeks, but the menorah was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. 

Miraculously, it burned for eight days. Hanukkah is said to celebrate not only this miracle, but also the rededication of the Temple and the continuing existence of Judaism.

Historically, children aren’t supposed to receive presents during Hanukkah. They’re supposed to receive a traditional gift of “gelt,” consisting of small amounts of money. Gift-giving is a fairly recent add on that started in the 1950s because parents didn’t want their children to feel left out of the Christmas fanfare.

While Hanukkah does not have as great a religious significance as other Jewish holidays, it is now one of the most culturally significant. It now stands for religious tolerance. Both Jews and Christians are respectful of each other’s right to worship at this time of year and join hands in the brotherhood of humanity instead of arguing about differences.

However, if we wish to celebrate religious tolerance during the holiday season, we must actually practice it. This involves understanding the actual significance of the holiday. For those of us who are not Jewish, to claim that Hanukkah is the “Jewish Christmas” and therefore has an equivalent religious significance to them is ignorant and even somewhat arrogant. 

Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday, and there are many others that have much more religious significance. This includes all of the major holidays, such as Passover and Yom Kippur, which most people know absolutely nothing about.

I understand the majority’s desire to make sure that people who don’t celebrate Christmas aren’t excluded from the warmth of the holiday season, but to arbitrarily take one of their holidays and make assumptions about its importance just because it occurs around the time of one of their own most significant religious holidays is disrespectful.

The proper way to include people is to actually learn about their holidays, their faith and what they’re celebrating, instead of dressing up their holiday so we can feel better about making such a loud fanfare about our own.

Hopefully, someday, religious tolerance won’t be something that we automatically prescribe to in order to be considered politically correct and socially acceptable. Instead, maybe people will actually be interested in learning about and understanding the importance of significant holidays of other religions.

Hanukkah starts this year on Dec. 9. Why not do a little reading up on it beforehand?

Cara Hillstock is a sophomore in English. Please send comments to