- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2000

Menorahs are creeping into stores where wreaths and jingle bells once reigned.

Card stores have traditionally sold Hanukkah greetings, but other mainstream retailers have begun in the past five years to offer products related to the Jewish Festival of Lights.

Kwanzaa, a holiday celebrated by some black Americans, also has gained visibility, though it has been slower to move into mainstream stores.

Pamela Nadell, director of the Jewish studies program at American University, said that, regarding Hanukkah, there has been a shift toward gift-buying and exchanging cards in the second half of the 20th century.

Where gifts and ritual items for Hanukkah and other holidays were once available only in shops at synagogues, they are now sold wherever there is a high Jewish concentration, such as Montgomery County, Md., from Wheaton to Rockville.

"Where there [is] enough of a population or on the Web, you find these mainstream stores carrying these objects," Ms. Nadell said.

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Hellenistic Syrians around 165 A.D. It usually takes place in December and changes every year according to the Hebrew calendar.

The holiday lasts eight days and nights because during the dedication there was only enough oil to light the menorah, or ceremonial candelabrum, for one day. As the legend goes, the oil instead lasted eight days.

Retailers have capitalized on Hanukkah's popularity, though it is a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish faith.

Consumers spent $10,000 on Hanukkah cards last year, according to the Greeting Card Association. That is tiny compared to the $2 billion spend on Christmas cards.

"The number of stores that have carried Hanukkah cards has steadily increased over the past five years," said Kristi Ernsting, a spokeswoman for the card-maker Hallmark. She would not give specific numbers.

Ms. Ernsting said retailers have realized the demand for such merchandise is high, and awareness of other cultures also is on the rise.

"I think that there's been a trend in recognizing an acceptance of different holidays, whether they be ethnic or religious," Ms. Ernsting said.

She said the company has offered Hanukkah cards since the 1940s, and menorahs were sold in Hallmark stores for the first time this year.

The Sentiments Hallmark in Springfield Mall sells a wide array of Hanukkah-related merchandise, from menorahs and candles to gift wrap, plates, napkins, candy and cards. The store also sells a children's favorite, the dreidel a spinning top with Hebrew characters on each of its four sides.

"People are asking for [Hanukkah products] long before we have a chance to put it out," said assistant manager Jessica McCartney.

Ms. Nadell said Hanukkah celebrations have combined with American traditions. One of her students bought a menorah with characters from Winnie the Pooh but Piglet is missing because of the Torah's prohibition against pork.

"I think that's actually fabulous. It says a great deal about the way you can commercialize Hanukkah, but somebody knows what the boundaries of the tradition are," Ms. Nadell said.

Home-furnishings and kitchen stores like Williams-Sonoma and Restoration Hardware now carry Hanukkah products.

Williams-Sonoma's Web site has a Hanukkah menu, complete with recipes and suggestions for kitchen tools to make the meal.

Gift-giving has become part of the holiday's tradition as well, but there were no statistics available on what percentage of Christmas-season sales are due to Hanukkah presents.

Awareness is also growing about Kwanzaa, a holiday founded in the United States in the late 1960s to celebrate black unity and African heritage. It begins Dec. 26, and lasts for seven days. Each day a candle is lighted to represent a different value, including unity, self-determination and faith.

E. Ethelbert Miller, director of the African-American Resource Center at Howard University, said Kwanzaa has gained widespread acceptance in the last 10 years.

"Many of the corporations and the commercial folks have tapped into it and realized there is a market," he said.

"Many people had started doing their own cards, because when they went to the store there weren't any cards," Mr. Miller said. But that has changed.

"If you look at any of the department stores, you begin to see displays," he said.

Ms. Ernsting of Hallmark said her company has made Kwanzaa cards since 1992 and also makes a line of cards called Mahogany aimed at black consumers.

At the Trover Shop on Connecticut Avenue in the District of Columbia, Kwanzaa sales are picking up.

"Kwanzaa over the last four or five years has become more and more popular," said store manager Bill Greenfield.

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