Rabbi Mark Sobel, the spiritual leader of a Reform-rooted synagogue in Burbank, Calif., enjoys "winter" carols come Hanukkah and Christmastime, but this year is a little different.
The Jewish faith's eight days of candle lighting, prayers, latkes and dreidel fun begins Wednesday, before carolers get in the swing and so soon after Thanksgiving there might just be some leftovers still in the fridge.
Hanukkah's on the early side — on the Gregorian calendar anyway — along with other major Jewish observances this year.
Some Jews are looking forward to a little distance between Hanukkah and the Christmas madness. It helps, they said, in staving off the perception that the Festival of Lights is a Christmas wannabe. Others started panicking before their Thanksgiving bird was defrosted.
For Sobel, it won't change the way he celebrates, save a tinge of remorse that non-Jewish neighbors and friends won't yet be in the holiday spirit.
"The feeling of total holiday season is not there," said Sobel, from the independent Temple Beth Emet.
Jewish festivals and commemorations begin on different Gregorian dates each year because they're set by a lunar-based Hebrew calendar adjusted to ensure certain ones fall during certain seasons.
Wyckoff, N.J., mom Caryn Kasmanoff, who has two teenagers and a 9-year-old, notes that Hanukkah is a very minor holiday, religiously speaking, in relation to Passover and other biblically mandated observances. It's nowhere near as important as Christmas is to Christians, but the comparisons can be harder on Jewish kids when the two holidays stand alone on the calendar, she said.
"As Christmas gets closer and children in school get more excited, their 'party' is over," Kasmanoff said. "So yes, as a parent, it's easier for the religions to share the festive feeling."
That can also be true for more secular Jews and interfaith families who will be packing away their menorahs after Hanukkah only to start prepping for Christmas. Or for people who focus on Thanksgiving as the big-deal holiday with barely any time to de-stress before Hanukkah shopping and party planning must be done.
"The world doesn't stop for Hanukkah," said Jennifer Prost, who has kids ages 16 and 12 in Montclair, N.J. "My kids still have tests to study for and papers to write. When Hanukkah is closer to Christmas, the kids are off from school, work schedules slow, evening meetings are off the table."
For the college set, on-campus Hanukkah might mean missing mom's potato latkes, but their family's not-home-for-the-holidays loss could be Ralph Taber's gain. He's the director of the Klehr Center for Jewish Life at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and a programmer for Hillel, the foundation for Jewish campus life.
"The timing of Hanukkah this year is perfect because it will occur before classes end," he said. "We know that students will be willing to attend more on-campus Hanukkah events."
As a parent, Taber is happy for Hanukkah's quick approach. He'll be done with shopping and celebrations just as Christmas is crowding stores and yuletide travel is clogging roads.
But some sellers of Jewish-related gifts said "early" Hanukkah can mean slow going.
"When it's close to Christmas, it's celebrated much more actively," said Gary Rosenthal, who creates menorahs, charity boxes and other Judaica out of metals and fused glass. "When Hanukkah is close to Thanksgiving it's passed us before we even know what happened. It's not good or bad. It's just the way it is."
Hanukkah rarely begins in November, though it will begin the night before Thanksgiving Day come 2013.
"That's super early and people will definitely be thrown for a loop," said Stacy Garnick, a former Hebrew school principal and career Jewish educator with two kids, 8 and 3, in Amherst, N.H.
Thanksgiving followed by an "early" Hanukkah is just fine with Sobel.
He said Thanksgiving has a lot in common with the festival of Sukkot, which has similarities with Hanukkah. Both are eight-day celebrations, the former in the fall to commemorate the Jews' desert wandering after the Exodus from Egypt. Hanukkah marks the rededication of the Holy Temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt and the miracle of a smidge of found oil lasting eight days.
"Some people think it's kind of great when Hanukkah's not anywhere near Christmas because it gets to be its own holiday," said Nora Rubel, an assistant professor of religion at the University of Rochester in New York.
"Theoretically, Hanukkah is supposed to celebrate triumph over assimilation," Rubel said, "so the great irony is it has become a Jewish Christmas, which is something that Jews complain about all the time but participate in."
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