Chapman students celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas

The 8-branched menorah is used to celebrate Hanukkah.

Photo by Alexandru Popescu
The 8-branched menorah is used to celebrate Hanukkah.

In 2003, Seth Cohen of the television show “The OC” popularized the phrase “Chrismukkah,” a fictional holiday where he combined Christmas and Hanukkah into one super celebration, so that he could honor his Jewish father and Christian mother. The concept of this faux holiday is frowned upon by religious leaders and it is not actually practiced by many. But observing the two religious days is not an uncommon occurrence with the Jewish population at Chapman.

“I celebrate both,” said Julye Bidmead, professor of Religious Studies at Chapman and Jewish convert. “I think they’re both great holidays.”

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that literally translates from Yiddish to “rededication.” In 175 B.C., King Antiochus IV took over what is now modern day Israel and slowly enacted various laws against the Jewish people. A few years later, they revolted and took over a nearby temple. But there was only enough oil inside to light the sacred Menorah for one day. According to Jewish texts, specifically the Talmud, the oil lasted a miraculous eight days. So temple was rededicated, and the holiday of Hanukkah born.

Hanukkah is one of, if not the most well-known, Jewish holidays, according to Bidmead. It’s a very joyful holiday that has many wonderful traditions and is a great time to gather the family. But she also feels that Hanukkah is popular because of the increased commercialization of the holiday during the past 30 years.

“[Hanukkah] is a minor holiday,” said Bidmead. “It has become more important and commercialized because it falls around the same time as Christmas.”

Christmas is the Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, whom Christians worship as the son of God. According to the Bible, Jesus’ mother, the Virgin Mary, gave birth to him in a stable because that was the only place available for her to lodge in.

Christmas is the most celebrated holiday of the season, but many religious leaders around the world, including the pope, have frowned upon the secularization of the day.

Although the two holidays are from different religions, celebrating both is a regular tradition for many.

Numerous students are raised by one parent who is Jewish and another who is Christian. According to the most recent National Jewish Population Survey, a little over 31 percent of Jews are intermarried, or married to someone from a different religion.

Junior Katie Jelinek comes from one such marriage. During the holiday season, her parents opt to celebrate both holidays instead of just one. They educate her on each day’s significance and follow the traditions of both.

“I celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah because both of my parents still hold on to their religions,” said Jelinek. “And I join them in the celebrations. I like the sentiment behind each holiday.”

Then there are others like Taylor Gittin, freshman, whose entire family is Jewish. But that does not mean that he does not only celebrates Hanukkah. According to Gittin, his family celebrates Christmas so that they can all join in on the holiday fun.

“We enjoy the feeling of that Christmas time spirit,” said Gittin. “So we go ahead and buy a tree, celebrate with gifts and spend family time together regardless of what religion we are.”

Brad Mahler, junior, also celebrates both holidays. He celebrates Hanukkah with his immediate family. But for as long as he can remember, he and his family have celebrated Christmas with their next door neighbors.

“It is one of the few times that we are all together back home,” said Mahler. “I like knowing that I get to see and be with friends and family that I haven’t seen most of the year as well as a guaranteed big and delicious meal to have with all of them.”

The practice of celebrating both holidays is common with Jewish students at Chapman, but not all do. Junior Jon Cohen grew up in a household where both parents were Jewish. He only celebrated Hanukkah with his family, he said.

“If a friend was hosting a Christmas party I’d go,” said Jon Cohen. “But I wouldn’t celebrate it in a religious sense.”

There are also students who come from a Jewish background but celebrate neither holiday. Sophomore Monika Hathaway, is one such student. She does not believe in a god, nor does she celebrate any religious holiday. Instead, her family selects a day during the year to get together, celebrate, and exchange gifts, but not under the guise of a certain religion.

“We don’t celebrate a particular holiday, but rather focus on the meaning of the season, peace, love, and goodwill toward others,” said Hathaway. “One doesn’t need a holiday to give gifts or to practice love and goodwill toward others.”

Regardless of which holidays the Jewish population at Chapman decides to celebrate, everyone agrees that it is good for family to find the time to get together, love one another, and to talk and laugh.

“I don’t think you have to be religiously observant to celebrate a particular holiday,” said Jon Cohen. “A lot of times it’s not about religion, it’s about family.”

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