Why Hanukkah Avoids Mass Commercialization

With Hanukkah starting the same day as Christmas this year, Hanukkah was completely dwarfed by Christmas with its myriad of commercials and store product displays, not to mention the nation-wide broadcast of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting. A friend asked me how it is that Hanukkah avoids commercialization. The answer is three-fold: market size, lack of awareness, and nature of practice.

Market Size
Of the 324 million people in the United States (census), 280 million of them are Christian. For companies producing holiday products, this is a very large customer base, offering a worthwhile potential market to amply justify themed commercials, decorations, and product development (of both Christmas-specific products like Santa figurines and Christmas-themed everyday items like red-and-green wrapped candies). Christmas commercialization has reached immense proportion due to a snowballing of companies playing up their holiday offerings to stand out amongst the fray.

The population of Jews in the United States, on the other hand, numbers only 5.6 million (WJC). For most large companies, this is too miniscule a market to cater to. This gap in the marketplace is filled by smaller companies specializing in products targeting the Jewish demographic. Jewish-focused companies manufacture foods, gifts, and specialized holiday products that can be found in local Jewish specialty shops, non-specialized shops in heavily-Jewish areas, and online.

Given that there are 5.6 million Jews and 280 million Christians in the United States, a proportional Hanukkah display would barely be noticeable. Even in New York City, known as being "very Jewish," Christians outnumber Jews by 7.4:1 (Pew). In areas with a high population of Jews, stores often have Jewish holiday displays: apples & honey and shofars (ram's horns blown during the holiday) for the Jewish New Year, matzah and Seder plates for Passover, and Hanukkiahs (the candelabras lit on Hanukkah) and dreidels (spinning tops) in windows and apartment building lobbies during Hanukkah. But with only 1.7 million Jews in the United States outside of the eight top cities, Jews in the rest of the country disappear in a mathematical rounding error.

With so many Christians in America, school breaks and legal holidays are arranged around the major holidays. This is so well-ingrained that Winter Break has become synonymous with Christmas Break. Christmas and Easter are so significant that the term C&E Christians has come into being, referring to Christians who attend church for the minimum of Christmas and Easter services. The Jewish equivalent of C&E, however, would not include Hanukkah. When celebrated, Hanukkah festivities include a brief candle lighting at home and Hanukkah parties for children and young professionals.

Jewish holidays are generally celebrated either in the home or in the synagogue, but rarely in public. Given how home-based these celebrations are, it would be easy for non-Jews to be unaware of Jewish holidays, particularly given confusion of holiday dates as the Jewish lunar-solar calendar shifts relative to the Gregorian calendar. In fact, placing the Hanukkiah in a window for others to see is about as public an observance as Judaism has.

In short, there will never be a large Hanukkiah standing alongside the 94 foot tall Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, and that makes sense. Hanukkah itself is a minor holiday, with neither the observance nor the public awareness to justify a large display.

With Christmas commercials, decorations, and music everywhere, it'd be hard to mistake the reach of the holiday. It is the anchor for home decorations, retail sales, elaborate window displays, and tourism, with retail sales alone topping $600 billion (Wikipedia). With so much interest and excitement over Christmas and its subsequent economic impact, it is therefore no surprise that there is so much commercialization as companies hurry to join the bandwagon.

US Census: census.gov/popclock. Retrieved Dec. 2016
According to the World Jewish Congress: "The Largest Jewish Communities" adherents.com. Retrieved Dec. 2016
"Adults in the New York City metro area" pewforum.com. Retrieved Dec. 2016
"Economics of Christmas" wikipedia.org. Retrieved Dec. 2016