During the month of December most of the attention is focused on Christmas. Most of the retail and holiday novelty items are geared towards Christmas but, while nothing compared to the 90-something percent of people who celebrate Christmas, there's more than one December holiday celebrated in the U.S. For example, how many Americans actually celebrate Hanukkah? It's probably more than you think.
According to a 2015 report by Wilmington, North Carolina's Star News, the ratio of Americans who celebrate Hanukkah compared to those who celebrate Christmas is one to 14. It sounds like a huge gap, but when you look at the overall numbers it's actually pretty impressive: only about 1.8 percent of the U.S. population are actually practicing Jews, according to The Washington Post. Also, nearly every American, Christian or not, celebrates Christmas. Comparatively, nine out of ten Americans celebrates Christmas, although only 46 percent of those people practice the holiday as a religious one as opposed to a commercial one, according to the Pew Research Center.
Though Christmas and Hanukkah are possibly the most notable December holidays, the month also hosts a few other holidays. While the Christmas-to-Hanukkah ratio is one to 14, that ratio increases to one to 49 when it comes to measuring the number of people who observe Kwanzaa, which celebrates African-American heritage.Then there's the Winter Solstice or Yule, which is the longest night of the year, and is celebrated in neopagan traditions as one of the oldest winter season holidays, according to the BBC. Warning: as implied it falls on Dec. 21 so get ready for the fewest hours of sunlight you've seen all year.
For those of you who might not be familiar, Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over Syrians in around 165 BCE. During that time the Jews, led by the Maccabees, reclaimed the Second Temple of Jerusalem and when they went to light the menorah — a seven or eight branched candelabra referred to by the Hebrew word for "lamp" — to mark the re-dedication, they only found enough oil to last for one day, but it lasted for eight. It's considered the miracle of Hanukkah, and that's why the holiday is celebrated for eight days.
But Christmas and Hanukkah do share one major thing that ties them together over the holiday season: gifts (were you expecting family?) Hanukkah is also celebrated with gift giving. Some families give gifts every night of the holiday, while some choose a day and have a big family gathering. Additionally, the light thing is shared too — sorta. Instead of twinkle lights, the Festival of Lights involves lighting a candle on the menorah each of the eight nights. There's also the business of some holiday gaming, or as us Jewish folks call it: dreidel. A dreidel is basically a four sides top that has a Hebrew letter on each side. Depending on how it lands, you can win a prize, usually chocolate coins, or lose something from your spoils.
Another notable Hanukkah tradition (probably the most notable) that every American can get behind is the food. Because of the miracle with the oil, Hanukkah is basically the holiday of fried foods. The most popular being the latke, a fried potato pancake, and the jelly doughnut. I know, are you drooling yet? Hanukkah ended on Dec. 10 but I may need to celebrate again with some more fried goodness.
I am one of those Americans who celebrate Hanukkah, and, sure, I'm swept up in the Christmas cheer each year (who couldn't be?). But the eight crazy nights are pretty fun too. 'Tis the season for everyone!