When did Hanukkah become important to American Jews?

It’s commonly claimed that Hanukkah was a sparsely celebrated holiday until the 20th century among Jews, and that it only took off as a response to the cultural ubiquity of Christmas. Now it is so popular among American Jews that some surveys hold it is second only to Passover as the most observed holiday. My question is when exactly did Hanukkah become anything more than a minor festival for American Jews? Was there an orchestrated campaign to make it popular? And for Jews in countries like England and Israel, is it anywhere near as popular as it is in the US?

That’s a good question. I bet most people in America, Jews included, don’t realize that Hanukkah is supposed to be a minor festival with a little bit of money only given to the kids. Adults giving each other Hanukkah presents is a recent innovation. In my memory, which goes back to the late 1960’s it has been a big deal.

I was raised Jewish (Reform) in the 50s. We were one of only a few Jewish families in our neighborhood and my parents didn’t want us to feel left out, so we got presents on all eight days of Hanukkah and also on Christmas. So making a “big deal” of Hanukkah, at least in our case, went back to the 50s.

One version of the answer.

As DSeid alluded to, Hanukkah is a big deal here in Israel. While gift-giving isn’t a huge part of it (although it does exist, mainly with kids), it’s still one of the most popular holidays, with some of the best food, the best songs and the best activities. It’s one of those holidays that even many die-hard atheists have no problem taking part in.

Of course, the fact that it’s an eight-day school vacation - and the only vacation between early autumn and spring - also helps.

Has it always been so? About 15 years ago a friend of mine who grew up in Israel told me that it was a very minor holiday.

When I was growing up in the 40s, it was a very minor holoday. We kids received small gifits, mainly things like chocolate “money” (foil-wrapped chcolate disks) and adults never gave gifts to each other. We did get Christmas presents, though, but a tree was considered rather too Christian. To our kids (but only ours), we gave rather more substantial presents at Chanukah and nothing at Christmas. This thread is the first I have heard of adults receiving gifts. I am astonished and appalled. Astonished because it is new to me and unexpected. Appalled because… I think of my sister married into an Italian family who told me maybe 20 years ago (so adjust the numbers) that each year she and her husband gave gifts worth about $2000 to his relatives and receive gifts worth about the same from them. In particular, MIL must receive a gift worth at least $500 or there’s be hell to pay. And had she been from such a family, you would have to double those numbers. What this meant was all her luxury spending was chosen by people who hadn’t the foggiest idea what she and her husband really wanted. I’ll buy my own luxury things, thank you. We give gifts to our grandchildren, but not our children, who are grown. And we very rarely get gifts and, when we do, it is either something minor or else a major gift (e.g. an all-expense trip to Hawaii for a week) that the giver (my son) wants to give in order to share his family’s vacation and, in any case, not for a made-for-marketers occasion.

In my family the adult kids give gifts to parents and adult siblings give gifts to each other. I think that it’s bullshit. I few years ago, I opted out of the whole thing and declared that I would only give gifts to nieces and nephews (no kids of my own.)

About the same time that Hispanics in the US started celebrating Cinco de Mayo, which is celebrated in Mexico mainly in the state of Puebla.