The Commercialization of Hanukkah

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In the United States, Fisher Price has mass-produced a special play set for Hanukkah as part of its "Little People" holiday series, which includes nativity scenes and the multicultural "Families in Your Neighborhood" collection. With its introduction, the American toy company is also responding to a growing US trend.

Hanukkah-themed toys

“Little People Hanukkah Play Set” by Fisher Price; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

Hanukkah and Christmas

Actually, Hanukkah is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. It is a festival of light celebrated in the home with ceremonial candle-lighting and the eating of traditional, deep-fried, oily foods. This winter holiday usually falls during the Christmas season, sometimes coinciding with Christmas day itself. Meanwhile, Christmas has become increasingly commercialized over the past decades, particularly in the United States, and Jews living as a cultural and religious minority are bombarded with relentless Christmas marketing. Not only children are allured by a magical, twinkling Christmas tree or the whiff of gingerbread. In a struggle to assert and maintain their identity, increasing numbers of Jewish families have made Hanukkah into a more important festival: it is widely observed with glowing Hanukkah lamps, fresh potato pancakes, and competitive light decorations.

Color-Coded Wrapping Paper

But what about the gift dilemma? Gifts are not traditionally given on Hanukkah, but on this point capitulation has been the preferred solution for many. The US gift industry has noticed this trend and begun developing Hanukkah products, from festival hand towels to dog toys. Even wrapping paper colors are codified: red and green for Christmas, blue and white for Hanukkah.

Title Little People Chanukka Play Set
Manufacturer Fisher Price
Collection Judaica
Location and year of origin China, about 2003–2005
Medium Plastic, cardboard, metal
Dimensions Various, height: 4.5–11.5 cm, width 4–17.8 cm
Acquisition Donation

Hanukkah, the festival of lights, celebrates the restoration of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. According to one account, in 164 BCE, a single container of oil was found in the ravaged Temple, which should have only sufficed to light the Temple’s candelabrum for one day but miraculously kept it burning for eight days and nights. Ever since, in the winter holiday of Hanukkah, the Hanukkah candles are lit on eight consecutive nights.

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Selected Objects: Judaica Collection (9)

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