What's the right greeting, and how important is the holiday?
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Q. What are the appropriate greetings from a Christian to a Jew at Hanukkah, and what exactly is the holiday about?
For a greeting, two little words will suffice: "Happy Hanukkah." That's how Jews greet other Jews on the holiday. It works for non-Jews as well as it does for Jews.
What you should know is that Hanukkah was only a minor Jewish holiday for almost 2,000 years. (It commemorates the victory of the Jewish Maccabees against the Syrians and Greeks who ruled Israel in the second century, B.C.E.--and against certain Jews who were adopting aspects of Greek religion.) It started to become prominent in the late 19th century, mostly as a response to all the hoopla going on around Jews over Christmas. So the minor holiday turned into a major way to strengthen Jewish identity.
The irony is that a holiday that originally commemorated Jews' resistance to other cultures now strongly resembles a certain December 25 holiday celebrated by Christians. On Hanukkah, just as on Christmas, Jews give gifts, play games, sing songs, and focus on children. So, while "Happy Hanukkah" is the proper greeting for this holiday, the "happiness" every year becomes less and less distinguishable from Christians' "merriment" over their own holiday.