Celebrating Hanukkah in a Christmas-crazed school

There are many holidays celebrated at West, some of which are underappreciated.

West High is home to many diverse groups of students. Despite this, the celebration of Christmas is overwhelmingly apparent in the school. From students talking about the holiday, singing and listening to Christmas music and wishing one another a Merry Christmas, the holiday is all around the building. For students that don’t celebrate Christmas, this continuous discussion of the holiday can feel as if their own religious holidays are less important or ignored.

Cymry Hieronymus ‘21 is one student who does not celebrate Christmas, and while it does not bother her all the time, some aspects of how Christmas takes precedence over other holidays makes her feel as if her holiday is marginalized.

It still kind of hurts that other religions and other people who celebrate different holidays are marginalized.”

— Cymry Hieronymus '21

“The Choir kids will talk about how they’re singing Christmas songs,” said Hieronymus, who celebrates Hanukkah. “Most people are Christian, so it shouldn’t bother me, but it still kind of does … I’m not Orthodox, so I don’t know a ton about Judaism, and I’m not super into it at all, but it still kind of hurts that other religions and other people who celebrate different holidays are marginalized.”

Hanukkah is the celebration of the rededication of the temple and how a single cruse of oil was able to light the menorah for eight days. This year, Hanukkah started on Sunday, Dec. 2 and ended on Monday, Dec. 10. While the celebration starts at sundown, it occurs on school days, unlike Christmas. Still, Hieronymus is mostly unbothered by this.

“We celebrate [it at] sunset so it doesn’t really interfere with my school day at all. It’s not a huge deal,” Hieronymus said.

Avery Carneol ‘19 also celebrates Hanukkah along with other Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.

“It is a little disheartening because no one really knows about the other Jewish holidays,” Carneol said. “It also really sucks when I have to miss school because of the Jewish holidays and I have loads of schoolwork to catch up on.”

Hieronymus celebrates Hanukkah religiously and Christmas secularly, or not religiously. Her grandfather celebrated Hanukkah and her grandmother celebrated Christmas. When they got married, they decided to celebrate both holidays. Her parents kept up with this tradition and now Hieronymus does as well.

“We just do presents on Christmas,” Hieronymus said. “That’s all I know about it, but for Hanukkah we do presents sometimes, and we do all the religious stuff.”

Just because I am receiving presents on Christmas doesn’t automatically mean I am celebrating the holiday.”

— Avery Carneol '19

Although most people know that Carneol is Jewish, she still gets asked if she celebrates Christmas. Like Hieronymus, Carneol has family that celebrates Christmas. However, she does not celebrate it herself.

“My friends also always ask me if I get presents on Christmas and I do, but they automatically think that means I celebrate Christmas and that’s not the case,” Carneol said. “Just because I am receiving presents on Christmas doesn’t automatically mean I am celebrating the holiday. My mom’s side of the family also knows that we don’t celebrate Christmas so they always call it late Hanukkah presents.”

Even though Hieronymus celebrates both holidays, she doesn’t feel as if she celebrates them as traditionally as other families might.

“We don’t … eat specific foods, like latkes and stuff [for Hanukkah] and we don’t really know how to make the foods,” Hieronymus said. “And for Christmas, we don’t really have a big meal either. We usually go over to my grandma’s house that night and celebrate with them. And in the morning, it’s just me and my immediate family.”

Carneol doesn’t like that Christmas overshadows Hanukkah. It makes people assume that everything around the holiday season is about Christmas.

“Most people put up Christmas lights even though Hanukkah is the celebration of the lights and most Jewish families don’t put up Hanukkah lights because most people would assume they are just Christmas lights,” Carneol said. “I’ve always wanted blue and white lights for my room, but we don’t put up lights in or around our home.”