I'm looking down the barrel my five-year-old. All my pre-planned thoughts go out the window. I knew he'd ask, but didn't realize it would be quite this soon. I'd assumed he'd get curious around 10 and want real answers by 13, but I was wrong. He's five and he wants to know the truth.
"Mommy, what can't we have Christmas?"
Ugh. I'm not ready for this. Immediately, I'm brought back to my own childhood. The only Jewish kid in my school, December was frought with Christmas-schadenfreude. Living rooms were filled with crisp-smelling trees and lawns were decorated with lights and characters. The Christmas-Celebrators seemed so happy and joyous, their families all got along and enjoyed spending time together. Their kids got really, really good presents. And lots of them.
On the other hand, the Hannukah of my youth was a Christmas knock-off at best. My Mom would try, bringing home one gift per each of the eight nights. But invariably the first night's gift would be decent to good and the rest would be "necessities" like nightgowns or parkas that we needed regardless, that were passed off as presents.
By night four, everyone in my family lost steam for Hannukah. By night eight, we'd all lost count, not sure if it was actually night seven or nine. We'd spend days cooking latkes, only to spend weeks with the after-smell of grease and onions. And we'd attempt to play dreidel, but no one could remember how.
We'd do our best to build Hannukah up saying to Christmas-Celebrators, "Sure, you got a BMW, but we get gifts for eight whole nights." But they weren't buying it and neither were we. In a kid's eyes there's no comparison. Christmas is the clear-cut cool holiday winner.
I do my best to defend Hannukah to my kid , explaining that Hannukah isn't just about gifts, it's about miracles. But he's only interested in one miracle, what will his gifts be? I talk about latkes, and chocolate coins and being together, but he wants to know if Jews get Santa too. "No," I explain, "Santa's contract only covers Christmas."
He sulks for a while before telling me the same thing I told my Mom when I was my son's age, "Well then I don't want Hannukah. I want Christmas. Christmas is cooler."
Then it occurs to me, that maybe all Hannukah needs is a little better p.r. I mean, Christmas is really nothing more than a world-wide birthday party with better marketing. What Hannukah needs is less Philistines and wooden dreidels and more frosted cookies and foliage. Hannukah needs better marketing. Starting with:
1) A MASCOT: In order to be identified and loved, Hannukah needs a character. Christmas has Santa Claus, Hannukah needs... Matt Damon.
Matt Damon should be the face of Hannukah. Why? Have you ever met somebody who doesn't love Matt Damon? Clooney, Affleck, Depp, debatable. Damon, unanimously loved. And everyone has either heard or said, "I can't get enough of those Bourne movies" making Matt Damon the Jews' answer to Santa.
Christmas may have rested on it's smug laurels this long with Santa as it's mascot, but we've got Matt Damon now.
2) BETTER FOOD: If Hannukah is going to compete with Christmas, it's foods need to include food Hannukah-Celebrators really like to eat: CHINESE FOOD.
Have you ever seen a Jew unhappy at a Chinese Restaurant? No. Why? They didn't have to cook it and they get to eat again 10 minutes later.
Check your text books, Jews love Chinese Food and so Chinese Food should be the international food of Hannukah. Sure, latkes are tasty, but have you ever tried to cook one? Chinese food is much quicker because somebody else cooks it.
3) BETTER LOOT: There is a myth that Jewish children score on Hannukah with 8 amazing gifts. This is simply not the case. Jewish children pretend to like the puzzle and calendar they got on days 6 and 7, but really covet the ipad, new skiis and off-road vehicle their Christmas-celebrating Neighbor received.
If Hannuah wants kids to like it, there needs to be less socks as gifts and more ipads. Each night.
4) EXTEND HANNUKAH: Sure Hannukah has eight nights, but that's clearly not enough. This is a Christmas/Kwanza filled world. Holidays have a hard time getting an audience.
Therefore, Hannukah should be a whole month. After all, Ramadan is a month and you never hear a Ramadan-Celebrator complaining. Clearly, Hannukah needs to be longer to monopolize people's attention for a full month at a time. (If this doesn't work, I'd recommend making Hannukah last a year.)
5) INDOOR FOLIAGE: Looking at a menorah on your parent's mantle pails in comparison to outdoor foliage being brought inside. Christmas trees are amazing and everyone wants one.
In order to make Hannukah more likeable, families should be allowed to fill their home with something Hannukah-Celebrators really like to look at: THE NEIMAN MARCUS CATALOG.
That's right, the Neiman Marcus catalog is Hannukah's answer to the Christmas tree. Instead of hanging ornaments, family members can gather 'round, hanging post-its on pages they'd like to purchase while eating Chinese Food by the fire.
In the same way the Christmas tree becomes the centerpiece of any Christmas-Celebrator's home, so will the Neiman Marcus catalog, prominently displayed, in the place of living room furniture, covered in decorative lights and post-its.
And last but not least, if Hannukah is going to reach mass-appeal, it should stop trying to reach mass-appeal. There's nothing like an aloof holiday to make a kid interested. And the promise of eight really good gifts. One of which will be an iPad.