Quick! Before the last Hanukkah candle burns down, we wanted to get our two cents in. You know The Word Mavens have an opinion on how Hanukkah shaped up this year:
This year, Hanukkah arrived four days after Thanksgiving. As soon as we wrapped up the leftover turkey and sweet potatoes, we had to start wrapping up the Hanukkah presents. The sad part is, our kids aren’t home yet to receive them, so although Hanukkah might technically have arrived, we’re postponing our get-togethers until Winter Break.
In fact, December 25 looks like the day when everyone will be available to get together. That’s when Joyce will do what most Jewish people will be doing — eating Chinese food, seeing an MOT matinee movie and exchanging gifts with her family.
When we were kids, we could count on a yearly Hanukkah party with the cousins. We ate latkes, traded presents and giggled a lot. Joyce’s husband, Ted, remembers the fun he had at Aunt Sookie and Uncle Herman’s house and Ellen has fond memories of her cousins, all now sadly, grown-ups.
So a shout out is in order for Cousin Sharon, who graciously hosts the family Hanukkah party these days, just as her parents did. It’s nice to be able to look forward to a family get-together with no dress code and no mandatory prayers – just a chance to ogle new babies, meet new boyfriends and girlfriends, and catch up on a year’s worth of gossip. And it’s especially nice to see your distant relatives at somewhere other than Levine’s or Goldstein’s.
Applesauce or sour cream?
What do you top your latkes with? It may be a gross generalization, but the older family members (that includes us) with relatives from Russia, Poland, or the vicinity seem to prefer sour cream. The younger ones prefer applesauce.
Joyce has solved the dilemma by starting out with sour cream on latkes she designates as “for the main course,” and then tops the last few “dessert latkes” with applesauce. In Ellen’s house, they eat the instant latkes all year round. So when Hanukkah comes, the great debate is “box vs. homemade.” Of course, homemade always wins. And this year, there was homemade applesauce, too.
Menorahs or, as they are properly called, hanukkiyot
Between our families, we own about a dozen Hanukkah menorahs. Some were gifts, others purchased on trips to exotic locales. Our favorites aren’t the museum-quality menorahs but the ones our kids made in preschool. Each of us has a menorah that started out as a block of wood before a child glued mosaic tiles and 9 metal nuts on top. Voila! An heirloom menorah. And our kids treat it like an heirloom. Every year, they search for the one they crafted in preschool – the one made out of clay or an egg carton or cardboard toilet paper rolls.
We know better than to choose a favorite. Each night of Hanukkah we clear a space on our table, gather the menorahs, and light several of them.
When Ellen’s kids were younger, she used to search the stores endlessly for a different dreidel or a new hanging star decoration for Hanukkah. Of course, these items pale in comparison to the Christmas light displays, but she had to try. Now, Ellen just opens up the storage box and hangs the same old Hanukkah banner and cartoon Mr. Dreidel cutout because her kids are too old to care about the decorations. They just want gift cards.
Cousin Sharon’s Hanukkah party featured a “Chinese auction,” for which each guest brought a wrapped gift worth $15 or less. Participants drew numbers to determine their gift choice order. No. 1 picked a gift and showed it to the crowd. No. 2 could pick one from the pile or snatch one right out of the cousin’s hands – and so on.
This year’s hot item was a stack of lottery tickets, which panned out to be worth just $5. It’s only fitting that a gambling gift was popular on Hanukkah, because according to legend, when King Antiochus’ soldiers knocked on doors to see if Jews were studying the forbidden Torah, the scholars would whip out their dreidels and pretend they were gambling instead.
Joyce wasn’t in on the grabbing. She was happy to pick the box of Godiva chocolate that she had contributed to the pile. She pretended to be surprised when she opened it! Chocolate -for me? You shouldn’t have!
Gifts for the 21st century
Online you can click to order Jewish themed “gift apps” for your friends who are glued to their phones and iPads. Some of the apps are more traditional, like the one that points you to the nearest synagogue when you’re in a strange neighborhood or the electronic siddur (prayerbook), which overlooks the fact that you shouldn’t be turning it on in synagogue or on Shabbat. Our favorite was the Aint Bubbies Dreidel app, which lets you to spin a virtual dreidel by tapping on your screen. The animation includes half-eaten gelt (chocolate coins).
Enjoy the last few days of Hanukkah! Although we intellectually understand the Jewish calendar, it doesn’t mean we like it when Hanukkah catches us by surprise. We just got done explaining to everyone why the holiday came so early this year, and now it’s gone. Next year, Hanukkah will run from December 20-28. How convenient! Hanukkah will wrap itself around Christmas. It will coincide with Winter Break, extra days off and extended shopping hours. We won’t have to postpone our parties. The holiday will be right on time – right where we like it. We’re excited already.