As retailers break out holiday displays and merchandise, more and more are decking the halls with blue and silver as well as red and green. Hello, Hanukkah. The Jewish holiday-which commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by foreign troops-is enjoying an unprecedented level of retail recognition, as reflected by the increasing numbers of Hanukkah-related toys, gifts, decorations and food items for sale during the holiday season.
From Fisher Price's Little People Hanukkah set ($29.99 at Toys R Us) to Hanukkah latte mugs ($19.99 for 4 at Target) to a Star of David bundt pan ($32 at Walmart), Hanukkah merchandise is everywhere.
A full 24-foot section of Hanukkah-related items went up for the first time this year in the Troy, Mich., Target before Halloween, says store team leader Carrie Worthington.
"This is the first year we've had this large of a run," says Worthington. The section includes "a little bit of everything-toys, gifts, cards, a full array of items."
All Target stores carry Hanukkah merchandise, says spokesperson Tara Schlosser, but Target has "increased the number of items considerably over the last couple of years" in response to customer demand.
Two years ago, Blooms- berry USA added a "Hanukkah Nosh" bar ($5 for 3.5 oz.) to its line of premium chocolates, which are carried in more than 20,000 stores across the U.S., including T.J. Maxx and Bed Bath & Beyond. "It immediately became one of our top sellers for the holiday season," says CEO Paul Pruett. The company has since added another Hanukkah design and has plans to add a third in 2011.
For centuries, Hanukkah has been a relatively minor Jewish holiday, one that pales in comparison to Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, says Sylvia Barack Fishman, professor of contemporary Jewish life at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.
"The raising of Hanukkah to a level of prominence it never enjoyed in traditional communities is due to its proximity to Christmas," Fishman says. Gift-giving at Hanukkah traditionally involves small gifts or coins for children, not adults.
But with close to 6 million Jews now living in the U.S. and interfaith marriages on the rise (47 percent of Jewish marriages between 1996 and 2001 were interfaith, according to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey), more families buy more for Hanukkah to keep up with Christmas.
"We celebrate both," says Ron Gompertz of Bozeman, Mont., whose wife, Michelle, was raised Lutheran. "We have a Christmas tree where we hang Michelle's childhood ornaments and dreidels. We light the menorah for each night of Hanukkah and sing the songs and prayers, and when Christmas rolls around we give gifts."
Gompertz, who founded the website Chrismukkah.com to provide "humorous tips and anecdotes" for other interfaith families, sees nothing wrong with fully embracing both traditions.
But for others, putting a Hanukkah spin on traditional Christmas items such as stockings or tree toppers (six-pointed Star of David tree topper, $19.99 at Amazon.com) may cross a line, says Fishman.
The Hanukkah hoopla is part of a "celebration of ethno-religious differences" that began in the late 1960s, says Fishman. "As Jews realized black is beautiful, they figured out that Jewish is reasonably attractive. It's all part of tolerating ethnic difference and allowing people to do their own thing."
Which means you have more opportunity that ever before to find that perfect Hanukkah cookie cutter set ($3.95 at Crate and Barrel), or plush Hanukkah dog bone toy ($8.49 at Amazon.com) or a "Got latkes?" T-shirt ($19 at cafepress.com).
But if all that mass commercialization turns you off, you can celebrate the season as it was intended. Light candles (hand-cast bronze menorah, $210 at Williams-Sonoma), give some gelt (cash or coins) and enjoy some crispy potato latkes (frozen Trader Joe's Traditional Latkes, $1.99 for 8).