I’m Jewish on my mother’s side: ethnically, 100% Children of Abraham; religiously, not very pious. My dad raised us nominally Lutheran. But from the mid-60’s through the 1970’s, we never missed Passover or Hanukkah at my grandparent’s house in Teaneck, New Jersey. I deeply cherished these celebrations. I was usually the youngest at the Passover seder and considered it a sacred honor to pose the Four Questions.
Hanukkah was a one-night affair at Grandma’s house. We usually, but not always, lighted the Menorah at our house, and I think on the first night of the festival (maybe the last) (maybe it was just Saturday) we went to Grandma & Grandpa’s house for the gift exchange. As a child this was indistinguishable from Christmas; it was Christmas for Jews. I had trouble making the connection
between the Miracle of the Lights and the Virgin Birth. (I was well into adulthood before I figured out there is none.) The gift exchange was dominated by Grandpa’s home-movie apparatus: his 8 mm camera was mounted to a horizontal bar fitted with four 6,000-watt floodlamps. He chased us around the room with this thing, filming the opening of each gift, giving us sunburn, setting wrapping paper on fire. (I was reminded of this the first time I saw Close Encounters.) Then we’d watch the previous years’ movies, hopelessly overexposed, my sister and I waving like glowie ghosts at the camera.
Then one year, in about 4th grade, I showed up in school on a mid-Hanukkah Monday and my classmates were comparing notes:
Paul Maccia: “What a haul! And five days to go!”
Mark Brownstein: “At our house we start small and work up to big; I’m expecting a bike by the end of the week.”
Danny Conford: “Hey X-Head [that’s me], how’s your Hanukkah so far?”
X-Head (me): “What are you talking about? Hanukkah isn’t until Saturday.”
Danny: “You dooshbag! [That’s what we called eachother in New Jersey in 1973] Hanukkah started last Friday!”
X-Head: “But the presents don’t come until the end…”
Paul: “Is THAT what your parents told you?! Holy Jeezus, Glen! We get a present every night of Hanukkah! Next you’re gonna tell me they don’t feed you latkes.”
X-Head: “Feed me what?”
I was dumbfounded. I demanded the truth of my mother. I think she said something like, if that’s what other families do, that’s their business; most of those gifts are probably little things, like Matchbox cars; your aunts and uncles give you nice stuff; quit complaining; etc.
I was sure someone was holding out on me. Then I asked why we only ate Grandma’s potato pancakes when my friends all ate latch keys. I think she laughed until she wet her pants.
So this year, with Hanukkah coinciding with Thanksgiving, I pulled one of my Menorot down from the high shelf, dug up a box of Hanukkah candles, stuck one in, set it on the sideboard and lighted it as we gave thanks for a Thanksgiving Dinner that couldn’t be beat.
That night, lying in bed, I did the math in my head to determine how you deploy 44 candles to cover the 8-day festival… AUGH!!! I was supposed to use TWO CANDLES (of course)! (The Shamesh and the First Day candle.) What was I thinking? Dooshbag… I’m a lousy Jew.
Hey — a blessed and happy Thanksgivukkah to you all.