Sure enough, in a 1993 study Stanford religious studies professor Arnold M. Eisen validated Matz’s findings, demonstrating that the majority of American Jews no longer had Christmas trees. In 82 percent of entirely Jewish households, a Christmas tree had never been displayed. So too, sociologist Marshall Sklare’s research in the 1950s and ’60s on second- and third-generation Jews established that Hanukkah–formerly a “minor” Jewish holiday–had gained in importance when it became the Jewish alternative for Christmas. “Instead of alienating the Jews from general culture,” wrote Sklare, “Hanukkah helps to situate him as a participant in that culture. Hanukkah, in short, becomes for some the Jewish Christmas.” Ironically, by elevating Hanukkah as a Jewish alternative to Christmas, American Jews had invented their own holiday tradition through a Christmas mirror.
The Christmas Mitzvah Season
One of the main ways of publicly proclaiming one’s Jewish identity in response to Christmas fever centered…
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