Light those candles, even in the shade of the Christmas tree

Scott Brown, Columnist

If my dad weren’t such a nice guy, I think I would be a pretty big disappointment. Having grown up in Philadelphia, my father is a diehard Phillies baseball fan, watching every last game, beginning to end. But when my dad took me to games as a kid, I usually ended up downstairs at the arcade games. I will always be a Phillies fan by default, but I will never be able to carry on my dad’s passionate legacy.

However, I recently realized I may be able to relate better to my dad’s plight as a Phillies fan than I thought. Being a Phillies fanatic is surprisingly similar to the situation I find myself in every year for a long time as a Jew during the Christmas season.

Both the baseball season for my dad and the holiday season for me have always started out with a declaration of confidence: this was going to be the year. For him, the year the Phillies finally live up to their potential and win the World Series; for me, the year I prove once and for all that Hanukkah is just as good as Christmas. No matter that the Phillies have the most losses out of any pro sports franchise ever and no matter that I am up against a beloved holiday celebrated by those who practice the world’s largest religion, and many more.

My strategy to rival Christmas took a three-part approach:

Phase one was the decorations. My family has never had a Christmas tree, and we’ve thankfully never attempted the sad Jewish equivalent, the Hanukkah bush. However, our house was decked out with blue-and-white string lights, Star of David wreaths and menorah-shaped cookie cutters.

Phase two was the Hanukkah-themed media. ARugrats Chanukah” was melted into the VCR, and my iPod relentlessly looped Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song.” 

But phase three was the trump card, Hanukkah’s defining feature: eight nights. When I told my wide-eyed school companions that I got eight whole nights of presents, nothing could top the look of awe on their faces.

Yet, as reality came into focus, certain tragic flaws always began to emerge. For my dad and the Phillies, it was usually a train wreck of pitching, lack of offense and face-smacking bad luck. On my front, there were a few crippling barriers.

For one, Hanukkah suffers from a lack of stability. There’s the spelling issue; is it Hanukkah or Chanukah, one ‘n,’ two ‘k’s? And then there are Hanukkah’s erratic arrivals. I’ve lit my menorah on school nights, on New Year’s Day and now, on Thanksgiving Day. Without a stable date or even a consistent spelling, Hanukkah just can’t establish itself as a contender.

To make matters worse, Hanukkah just doesn’t have the same monopoly on American culture that Christmas has. The tiny display of Hanukkah decorations in the corner of the party store could never hold up to the stockpile of ornaments and yard decorations from which Christmas celebrators have to choose. There’s also the harsh reality that the amount of Hanukkah-themed media out there shrivels in comparison to Christmas. When you search “Christmas movies” on Wikipedia, there’s a list of over 100 films. When you search “Hanukkah movies,” there’s one sentence: “The page ‘Hanukkah movies’ does not exist.”

So for the Phillies and for Hanukkah, the season usually ends in another sound disappointment. Neither could live up to the high bars my dad and I set, and over the years, I think we both have come to accept our roles living in the shadows.

But we refuse to take it sitting down. My dad will defend his Fightin’ Phils with all the brotherly love he has, and I will do the same for my Festival of Lights. After all, they’re all we have to hold on to. Just as the Phillies are the team my dad was born with, Hanukkah is the holiday that was given to me. It has always been my way to feel included in holiday festivities amid a sea of Christmas cheer. And it’s that sense of belonging to something, whether it’s a blindly faithful fan base or a small religious group, that really makes you proud.

So yes, I’ll still brag to all my non-Jewish friends about how I get eight whole nights of presents. Like any good Phillies fan, I’ll take my victories where I can get them.

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Twitter: @scottbrown545