This year Hannukah is special for American Jewry because the first night of Hannukah is Thanksgiving. Exciting! This will be the first Thanksgiving for my family, so the uniqueness of this, once in hundreds of years anomaly, is lost on them. Because this is their first year in the US, it will also be there first time witnessing the holiday which usually occurs near Hannukah, Christmas.
You may be confused as to how this is their first Xmas. If you are not American and have never been here in December, it is impossible to understand the complete sensory assault coupled with this holiday. You have to be in solitary confinement to avoid the overwhelming experience. And if you have always been in the US, it is hard to conceptualize how people in other countries can make it through December without 'Jingle Bell Rock' stuck in there heads.
I need to prepare my children. Hannukah and Xmas are not meant to be a competition, but the lure of latter is intense. According to the very recent PEW population survey of American Jewry, one in three people identifying themselves as Jewish have a Christmas tree!
If you ask the average person what was the miracle of Hannukah, they will tell you that it was because the oil lasted for eight days instead of one. Which was miraculous, as recounted in the Gemara. But when we say "al hanisim' in all teffila over Hannukah, there is no reference to the oil. It is about the militaristic battle, the victory of the Maccabees and the Jewish people over the Greeks. What caused this war? According many historians, the battle grew out of a civil war between the Jews and the Hellenists. The Hellenists were the Jews who had strayed from religious life and had embraced the popular culture and lifestyle of the Greeks around them.
Kind of like putting up a Christmas tree if you are Jewish. The miracle of Hannukah is that the Jewish people overcame assimilation. And as part of the celebration, we light a big candelabra and place it outside our homes. Persumei Ha'Nes Make the miracle known. We had this in place long before Xmas lights.
Putting something outside, to publicize the miracle of our dedication to Judaism (and our rededication of the Temple), is part of Hannukah. The chanukiyah is only for 8 days and leaving it to burn outside isn't done everywhere.
The girls and I made 'mobiles' to hang outside to show the miracle of Hannukah.
First we made bakers clay.