It was the candles.
There's something wonderful about candlelight in the dead of winter. (Okay, this week, it's the end of autumn, but it's certainly dark enough to feel like winter.) When the kids were little, we lit the candles, one night after another, and you could see the excitement mount as the menorah filled. We'd light them before dinner and watch them burn, commenting on each one's progress. It's totally corny, but my kids, accustomed as they were to electricity, marveled at these flickering lights.
The holiday itself, quite frankly, is minor. The only reason non-Jews know about it is that it usually lands around Christmas, and non-Christians are completely overwhelmed by the non-stop Christmas, CHRISTMAS, CHRISTMAS!!!!!!! that's blasted at us this time of year. Hanukah became a defensive mechanism. Sure you have bright decorations carpet bombed everywhere, gorgeous trees, inspired music, colorfully wrapped gifts, weeks of feasting, feel good stories and movies, and one heck of a religious service. We have---uh---menorahs, silly songs, token gifts (for 8 days!), latkes and doughnuts, and the occasional TV special.
The fact is, with its over-the-top celebration, nothing in the West can compete with Christmas.
But when you stop trying to compete, you notice what you do have. A perfectly lovely minor holiday, with beautiful candles.