Hanukkah, which begins this evening, has its roots in an ancient Jewish revolt against the Syrians. But the fact that we celebrate it the way we do today has its roots in, of all places, Cincinnati:
There is nearly no record of people celebrating Hanukkah just a couple of centuries ago. But it began to be an important Jewish holiday in the second half of the 19th century when two rabbis in Cincinnati noticed their Jewish children didn’t have much connection to the synagogue.
The rabbis developed a new celebration for children during Hanukkah that was held in the synagogue and included giving presents. National newspapers publicized the new celebration, and it was soon being celebrated all around the country.
Hanukkah was being reinvented at a time when the American culture had a booming holiday in Christmas. The Jewish community began to reshape Hanukkah as something their children and families could do when American families were doing the same thing around Christmas.
More about Hanukkah’s modern history from today’s Morning Edition.