Remembering Chanukah

by Janice L. Booker (Malibu, CA )

I grew up in Philadelphia in the days preceding World War II when Chanukah was not nearly the celebration it is today.

The holiday was never mentioned in public school, despite the fact that the population of my elementary and junior high school was predominantly Jewish.

There was no expectation of equal coverage. Christmas was celebrated in the schools with a tree in every classroom and in assemblies where we sang Christmas carols weeks before the holiday.

An unwritten, unspoken agreement among the Jewish kids was that when we sang the carols, lustily and with pleasure, we kept our lips sealed when the name of Jesus Christ was mentioned. To my knowledge, no parent ever asked for this and no one discussed it; it just was.

I don’t remember feeling cheated or inferior. Christmas just didn’t belong to me, and Chanukah was no substitute. There were no decorations and no expectations of eight gifts.

Sometimes friends of my parents or relatives gave Chanukah “gelt,” a small offering of cash. A quarter was considered a windfall.

We did buy chocolate “coins,” but Chanukah was treated as a minor holiday, which it realistically is.

As Christmas has become the shopping extravaganza it is today, so Chanukah celebrations have proliferated proportionally.

I succumbed when my children were young and went into the one gift per night routine, which I still do with my grandchildren.

Janice L. Booker is the author of The Jewish American Princess and Other Myths, Philly Firsts, and Across from the Alley Next Door to the Pool Room, from which this reminiscence is excerpted with permission of the author. For more information about her work, visit:

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Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish identity

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