Hanukkah's marketing miracle | Christmas 1983
Two holiday stories to end the year
Hello situation normies & welcome to the last Situation Normal of 2022! I’ll be back in early 2023 to channel my inner Nostradamus and offer some predictions for the year ahead.
In the meantime, I have two holiday stories for you, but in order to read the second one, you’ll have to click a link because that story, Christmas 1983, is what television viewers used to call a “rerun.”
But before we get to the stories, I want to acknowledge the awesome readers who have stepped up to support Situation Normal.
A big thank you to Peter E., invious, Dave, and Brenna M!
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OK, first up is a Hanukkah story. Just FYI, I wrote this one in 2015, so the Hanukkah-candle-math is going to feel off to readers in 2022, but maybe it’ll be just right for readers in 2047. Freaking lunar calendars, am I right?
ANYWAY, here’s Hanukkah’s Marketing Miracle!
The menorah at the Grove caught LaMonde’s eye.
“Some of those lights are broken,” he said. “Actually… most of those lights are broken. What the hell?”
I assumed my friend was messing with me. LaMonde isn’t Jewish, but surely he knew how menorahs worked, right?
“I need to talk to someone,” LaMonde said. “Where’s the mall manager? This is outrageous.”
I giggled a little, but LaMonde didn’t laugh. He really was serious.
“Hanukkah is always an afterthought,” LaMonde said. “I’m not having it. This is messed up. This is bullshit.”
Before I could explain, LaMonde launched into a rant about how Hanukkah gets second billing every holiday season. No Hanukkah ads on TV, LaMonde said. No Hanukkah decorations around town. They don’t even play Hanukkah songs on the mall’s PA, or on the radio, LaMonde said.
“There’s Adam Sandler,” I offered.
LaMonde waved off the mention of Adam Sandler.
“That’s a joke,” he said. “I’m talking about representation.”
At his neighborhood Target—a neighborhood with lots of Jewish people—there aren’t any Hanukkah displays, LaMonde explained.
“But there are two aisles of Christmas stuff,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
“Well, the Jewish community in Los Angeles is prominent, but our numbers aren’t exactly huge.”
“And now they put up a menorah with broken lights. Broken lights!”
LaMonde was pissed. Really pissed. Sure, his anger was misguided, but damn if his rant didn’t make me feel seen in a roundabout way.
“I think we need to talk about the story of Hanukkah,” I said.
“I think so too,” LaMonde said. “But save it for the mall manager. I want you to tell them what’s what before I tell them to fix the damn lights.”
“I think it’s better if we get our story straight first,” I said.
LaMonde gave me a curious look. That was my cue.
“Look, I’m not going to get into all the details because it’s been years since I was in Hebrew school, and I’m more of a cultural Jew, so what do I really know? But here’s the deal with Hanukkah.”
First, I gave my friend some historical context. Back in the day, the Jewish people were living under Greek rule, and it wasn’t going well.
“But the Greeks were technically Syrian because history is kind of a mess,” I explained.
I could see that I was already losing LaMonde with the technical stuff, so I cut to the action.
“Anyway, shit was getting out of hand because whoever ruled over the Jewish people had become very uncool.”
I couldn’t remember exactly. But the thing about Jewish history is that the villains are pretty straightforward in terms of their goals. Either they’re trying to kill us, or convert us, or both. I went with a little from column A and a little from column B.
“They wouldn’t let us worship,” I said. “It was their way, or the highway.”
To illustrate that the highway was fucked, I pantomimed slicing my own throat from ear to ear.
“So what happened?”
“Well, a group of Jews called the Maccabees, basically a gang led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, we’re like, we’ve had it with these motherfucking Greek-Syrian overlords and their polytheistic rules!”
“Then what did they do?”
“They kicked ass.”
“Did they take names?”
“No, they were too busy kicking ass.”
LaMonde rolled his eyes.
“Well, after all the ass-kicking, the Maccabees took back the Temple in Jerusalem. Very big deal.”
“But there was a problem. They needed to rededicate the Temple, and you gotta light candles for that. But there wasn’t enough oil to do that. Like, there was a ridiculously small amount of oil, OK?”
“Got it. Not enough oil to make the Temple right and get right with God.”
“Except the oil they had ended up lasting for eight nights,” I said. “That’s the miracle. The miracle of Hanukkah.”
“Let me get this straight. The miracle is that the oil lasted eight nights, not that they rose up and kicked out their overlords, even though I’m assuming the Jews were definitely the underdogs in that fight. Do I have that right?”
“That’s correct. The rebellion was a DIY thing, the oil was a miracle from God.”
“OK, but that’s even more of reason not to mess up the mall menorah.”
“It’s not messed up,” I explained. “There are eight nights of Hanukkah. We light one candle every night to commemorate each night of the miracle.”
LaMonde looked at the menorah with fresh eyes. Then he counted. Three candles burning. Third night of Hanukkah.
“Oh,” he said.
“So… you guys light the candles to celebrate. What else?”
“We light the light candles, then we have some wine, then we eat fried food for dinner.”
“Fried food? For real?”
“Yes. Most people do potato latkes, which were the original hash browns, I think. Some people eat donuts for dessert. But as long as it’s fried in oil, it’s Hanukkah-approved. Then after dinner, we spin the dreidel.”
“It’s gambling. We bet chocolate coins.”
LaMonde thanked me for explaining Hanukkah and for saving him from making a fool of himself in front of the mall manager. Then my friend repaid the favor by explaining marketing.
“You do realize that if more people knew there was a holiday about eating fried food and gambling, everyone would celebrate Hanukkah, right?”
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OK, now it’s time for a Christmas story!
I wrote Christmas 1983 in 2020. Back then, there were fewer than 200 Situation Normal subscribers, so this story is going to be new for most of you. Also, this story references certain things in 2020 that are no longer things today, but I firmly believe that the themes explored in Christmas 1983 remain deeply relevant to the world of 2022. Enjoy!
To read Christmas 1983, click on the story below 👇
Fried food and gambling, my inner copywriter agrees. "Enjoy a cruise ship, on land" would lead to total December dominance.
I enjoyed the Hanukkah story, thank you Mr. Estrin! Oddly, I learned a lot. Candles, donuts, gambling with chocolate—it sounds like a pretty good holiday!