Hanukkah, our favorite family holiday, isn’t always convenient for the family. There have been many years when we postponed our celebration until winter break when our kids could make the trek home. This year, thanks to Jewish holiday drift, the calendar is cooperating: Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve.
If we turn on the radio that night when we are frying up the latkes, we'll undoubtedly hear “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” While we don’t have lords a-leaping or swans a-swimming, we do have dreidels a-twirling. So join with us in singing of the eight nights of Hanukkah:
▪ Eight candles burning: Like sneakers (Keds) and coffee (Maxwell House), there used to be only one choice for Hanukkah candles: the blue box with the washed-out yellow and almost-red candles. Now we have beeswax candles in vibrant colors, tie-dyed striped ones, and artistic ones from the candle factory in Safed, Israel. We love to mix them up in the nightly lineup.
We have a silver Hanukkah menorah from a trip to Italy and a ceramic one from the synagogue, but our favorites are the ones our children made. Every year our kids search for the one they crafted — out of clay or toilet-paper rolls. We clear a space on the table and gather all the menorahs.
▪ Seven latkes frying: Our families demand tradition, which means potato latkes grated by hand and fried in oil. No zucchini. No parsnips. No newfangled variations. For toppings, the grown-ups prefer sour cream. The younger ones favor applesauce.
▪ Six gifts awaiting: It used to be so much fun to wander the toy store aisles in search of Star Wars LEGOS and a princess dress-up set. Our kids have outgrown plastic toys; they prefer the kind of plastic that fits in their wallet. But giving them access to our Amazon Prime account just doesn’t seem that festive. We search for something millennials will enjoy and that can fit in their 700-square-foot apartment. We have a feeling we'll be gift wrapping socks and underwear again this year.
▪ Five kids arriving: We'll fill the refrigerator with all of their favorite foods so they’ll be thrilled at how thoughtful their mother is and want to come home again soon. If we’re lucky, we'll convince them to stick around until Dec. 31, when the last night of Hanukkah coincides with New Year’s Eve. We can light all eight Hanukkah candles, drink champagne and watch the ball drop together.
▪ Four dreidels spinning: We will scrounge up pennies or M&Ms so we can play dreidel. Anything we can do together than doesn’t involve an iPhone is a sacred tradition. That’s why, when one of our kids showed us an app that lets you play virtual dreidel, we weren’t impressed. Tapping the screen to spin isn’t the same as twirling a dreidel on the floor.
▪ Three bubbes kvelling: When we were young, we loved our Hanukkah parties with the whole mishpuchah (extended family). We’re lucky to have cousins who carry the torch. It’s nice to attend a family get-together with no dress code and no synagogue attendance – just a chance to ogle new babies, meet new significant others, and catch up on a year’s worth of gossip. It’s especially nice to see distant relatives somewhere other than at Levine’s Funeral Home.
▪ Two ladies shopping: Every year we pull out our box of Hanukkah decorations, and then we go shopping for more. We’re happy when we find one lonely aisle of blue-and-white tchotchkes sandwiched between the snow-covered ceramic villages and the wooden Santas. We’ve seen a glass dreidel too fragile to spin, a “Peace, Love & Hanukkah” pillow and a Star of David cake pan.
And on the last night, sing it together now, a Gutsy Judah Maccabee.
Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic are authors of “The Whole Spiel.”