Updated: Jan 27
There are three ways to spell Hanukkah. I can never keep it straight.
It’s December 1st. We can talk about the holidays. Finally.
As if my Instagram feed hasn’t been advertising advent calendars since Halloween. As if my satellite radio didn’t start playing holiday music on November 1st. As if I didn’t shop at a pre-pre-pre-Black Friday sale in September.
I’m Jewish, so of course, my favorite holiday is Christmas. I love the lights, the trees, the carols. I wrote a column about my love of carols. Read it on the 27East.com archive. I’m sure you’re not too busy getting ready for Christmas. You’ve got 24 whole days!
For me, the best thing about Christmas is that it’s not my holiday. I’ve got no skin in the game, no hard and fast rules. This means if Catholic Mr. Hockey wants to uphold any traditions, he has to do it all.
Wait. Surely, Mr. Hockey doesn’t do ALL the Christmas work? I feel like I do everything.
Let’s see. Mr. Hockey picks out and buys the tree and puts it up. He gets the Christmas bins from the basement. He cajoles the hockey pucks into untangling the lights, then coaxes them into locating that one dead tree light that shorts the whole string. And he makes Christmas dinner.
Wow, he does do a lot! My bad.
I don’t exactly twiddle my thumbs. I buy the gifts for Mr. Hockey, the four hockey pucks, their plus ones, our cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, friends, and I wrap them all. I create the holiday card, write the letter, compile the addresses, fill, stamp and label the envelopes.
And I eat Christmas dinner.
My holiday work takes months. Remember when I went to the pre-pre-pre-Black Friday sale in September? I need spreadsheets to organize the presents. I start writing the holiday letter in March.
Plus, I’ve got Hanukah – or Chanukah, or Hanukkah – however you spell it. The eight-day holiday begins on the 25th day of Kislev. When is Kislev 25th? Great question! This year it’s December 18th, last year it was November 28th, and next year it’ll be December 7th. The first night of Hanukah is fluid, like its spelling.
Hannukah’s dates fluctuate because they are determined by the Jewish/Hebrew calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle. The Gregorian calendar we all use was invented by Pope Gregory in 1582 and isn’t lunar. I’m not sure what it is.
Since 1582, it has been an effort to mesh the two calendars. That’s why the charity, Hillel, sent our mothers those laminated lists of holidays every year. Now, because we can Google the dates, Hillel sends us unsolicited Chanukah wrapping paper.
Googling the dates also no longer gives us an excuse for missing Tu BiShvat – the Jewish version of Arbor Day. FYI, Tu BiShvat is celebrated on the 15th day of Shvat, which I think is in February.
Chanukah commemorates when a ragtag bunch of Jews (the Maccabees) overcame their Greek/Syrian oppressors and then rededicated the Temple of Jerusalem. When the Maccabees went to relight the Temple’s eternal flame, there was only enough oil for one day, but the oil lasted eight days. A miracle!
Jewish families celebrate Hanukkah differently, because we Jews are fluid, like the way we spell Chanukah. Some families eat potato pancakes (latkes), others eat doughnuts (or donuts); foods fried in oil remind us of the Temple’s miracle oil. Some families give their kids one gift each night, others give one big gift at the beginning or end.
When I was a kid, we celebrated Hanukah all those different ways. Except for the doughnuts, we were never donut people.
In a nod to Santa, my parents created the Flying Rabbi. According to them, the Flying Rabbi brought Jewish girls and boys Hanukkah gifts and hid them in the trunks of their parents’ cars. My brother was an expert snoop, but he didn’t have access to the car keys.
With four pucks, we’ve always had minivans or SUVs. Therefore, no trunks. The Flying Rabbi hides the pucks’ presents in my closet instead.
In the years when Hanukah occurred before the college-aged pucks came home for winter break, I dreamed of sending them each a box with eight gifts. I thought they would love eight nights of silly surprises and socks. Ask any Jewish mother, socks are a Chanukah staple. Also, novelty Hanukkah socks are funny.
But buying, wrapping, and sending 32 gifts requires organizational skills and spreadsheets beyond my abilities. If I buy presents early, I lose them. That’s how good the Flying Rabbi is at hiding them.
Sometimes, during the Christmas chaos, I forget about Hanukah completely. I end up flinging menorah socks at the pucks as they’re getting into their cars.
This year the end of Chanukah overlaps with Christmas and I plan to acknowledge it with more than dreidel socks. Since everyone will be here, we’ll make latkes. We’ll light our four menorahs, including my childhood one. The pucks like to sing the prayers loudly for God to hear. Poor God. The pucks are terrible singers.
It’s what I love about the holidays, or is it Cholidays? Coaxing the pucks to find the dead Christmas bulb. Watching Mr. Hockey wrangle the tree into the stand. Seeing the smiles on the pucks’ faces when they open their socks that say, “I love Hanukkah a latke!” See, funny!
I can’t talk about the holidays soon enough.
Published in The East Hampton Press on December 1, 2022.
Photo by Me!!