How to be a Jewish Ally this Holiday Season


Hannah Roberts, Contributing Writer

As we quickly approach the holiday season, it is important to keep a few things in mind regarding your Jewish friends. First, you should have a general idea of when Hanukkah falls this year. Hanukkah begins the night of Sunday, November 28 and it ends the evening of Monday December 6th. Jewish holidays follow this trend of beginning at sundown and ending at sundown because of a passage in the Torah (the book that defines Jewish law). The Torah defines the day as beginning in the evening because evening is mentioned before morning in the text, and so the holidays follow this pattern.

What is Hannukah? Hanukkah is the festival of lights that celebrates the triumph of the Jewish Maccabees over their Greek -Syrian oppressors. The Second Temple of Jerusalem had been defiled and the Jews managed to reclaim it, which led to the celebration of lights. It is said that the Maccabees lit a menorah for 8 days and 8 nights, even though they thought they only had enough oil for one night. 

Now that you know when and what Hanukkah is, how should you greet a Jewish person this holiday season? The safest phrase to say in general would be “Happy Holidays,” but if you’re certain that the person you’re speaking to is Jewish, you have a few more options. One phrase is “Chag Sameach!” (Pronounced Hag-Sahm-Eh-Ach). This translates to “Happy Holidays” from Hebrew to English. Another option is “Chag Urim Sameach“, which is basically the same greeting as the previous phrase, except it acknowledges the aspect of light, as “urim” translates to light.

How can you celebrate with your Jewish friends? Some Jewish people give out one gift each night for all eight nights, but not everyone does this. A common gift that you can give someone would be gelt, which are chocolate coins used to play the dreidel game, a traditional game played during Hannukah. In addition to chocolate, it is traditional to eat fried food such as latkes (potato pancakes) or jelly doughnuts as a symbol of the oil that lasted eight days. Try to keep some of this information in mind as we move closer to the holiday season!