Posted By Vicki McClure Davidson on December 11, 2009
Happy Hanukkah! Or is it spelled Chanukah? Or Xanuka?
According to Joe Maller’s non-scientific Google research posted back in 2005, there are at least sixteen ways to spell Hanukkah… Jeremy’s Weblog explored the various spellings in 2004, and also came up with sixteen.
Sure didn’t know that, although while having the same number of spellings, Joe’s and Jeremy’s lists don’t match. The “h” beginning, “double k” middle, and “h” ending spelling is by far the most commonly used, and Chanukah is the second-most popular spelling on both lists. But these lists were compiled based on the number of Google hits, so bear that in mind.
I found this droll 2007 piece at Jew Eat Yet? that discusses the “why’s and wherefore’s” of the different spellings of “Hanukkah” and some Jewish observations of non-Jewish people during the Festival of Lights. Here’s a hilarious portion of O Chanukah, O Hanukkah:
For many of our holidays and rituals, we seem to have two ways of doing things: one when we are amongst ourselves, and then a more Americanized, goyified way that is more suitable for mass consumption. Hanukkah’s spelling problems obviously come from the challenges of transliterating Hebrew sounds that don’t exist in English. When I looked up the two different spellings of the word in the Los Angeles Times archives, I noticed that almost all pre-World War II references to the holiday spelled it Chanukah, which I consider the more Jewish way, and then suddenly, in the late 40s and beyond, the spelling switched to Hanukkah (and the number of articles about it quadrupled). I guess that’s the price of assimilation and increased attention. If we’re going to pit our holidays against the Christian ones, we better make sure they are easily digested by the non-Jewish populace. Better avoid those hard gutteral “kh” sounds that are so hard for many goyim to pronounce (Kendall converted years ago and still has a hard time getting that sound out of her throat). It must have been all the non-Jews pronouncing Chanukah with the “ch” sound used in “church” that led to the new spelling. (In my Hanukkah meme from last year, I talked about the great “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which uber-shiksa Mary Kay Place attends her Jewish friend Gilda Radner’s holiday celebration: “Bobbie, these Chanookah decorations are out of this world!”)
While many Yiddish words have crept into daily usage, another tactic in presenting our practices to the outside world is the Anglify the words we use at home so that outsiders can understand. This is a courtesy that makes sense in certain cases, but sometimes popular culture goes too far, in my opinion. I don’t think a single Yiddish word was used in the movie version of “Fiddler on the Roof” and many of the English translations seemed bizarre to Jewish viewers. Calling a yarmulke a beanie or skullcap or a chuppah a bridal canopy, or even the character called Yenta the Matchmaker which led many viewers to mistakenly believe that the matchmaker’s first name was Yenta. How could they know that the word yenta means matchmaker in Yiddish (no it doesn’t, see comments below) so her name in the film was basically “Yenta the Yenta.” Did the producers really think that Gentile viewers would have freaked out if they heard a Yiddish word and not have been able to understand some of them in context?
Hanukkah brings its own euphemisms. Want to spot a goy at a Hanukkah party? Look for the guy talking about potato pancakes, candelabras, and spinning tops rather than latkes, menorahs, and dreidels. I’m not criticizing these folks, we had several at our table last night who used these words and they couldn’t have been more charming, respectful guests. In fact, this year the goyim outnumbered the Jews at our house and they slaughtered us in a cut-throat game of dreidel, winning most of the chocolate gelt. I then noticed that the gold foil-wrapped gelt I bought earlier in the day also suffered from an identity crisis. Half of the coins were shekels with Hebrew lettering and the other half were Euros and South African krugerrands. Oy, at least there were no Nazi Reichsmarks with Hitler’s image embossed on the foil!
The Jewish Magazine has posted an amusing anecdote about the different spellings: How do You spell it? Chanukkah, Hanuka, Chanuka…?
Enjoy these vintage Hanukkah photos.
Click image to enlarge.
Click image to enlarge.
H/t to Jewcy.com for the following vintage LP album cover image posted in 2007 at Daily Shvitz, Hipster Judaism from 1962: Sid Wayne and Stanley Adams, “Chanukah Carols” from 1962. A fun read, too.
This last Hanukkah photo isn’t vintage, but it was too amusing to pass up…
Big Government: A Disturbing Trend From the White House Toward the Jewish People