Through our own miracle, we pack eight days of Hanukkah in to one night. This year I eschewed latkes – I wasn’t in the mood for fried food – in favor of a spicy vegetable dish. We gambled away our gelt, using notes on a Post-It to remind us what the different sides of the dreidel meant. We lit all of the candles on the menorah on the fourth night of Hanukkah. It goes without saying that we’re not Jewish.
When my oldest child was in kindergarten, she asked if we could celebrate Hanukkah, and I jumped into action. My grandmother was Jewish, making Hanukkah a part of my daughter’s heritage, plus it can be fun to try different customs. My father-in-law picked up two menorahs for us while on business in Israel – after purchasing the first one, he noticed it held fewer than eight candles, which is when we all learned that Hanukkah menorahs are different from other menorahs. This was an educational experience for everyone, not only the kids.
After the first year of candles and gelt, my daughter thought it best if we fully celebrate Hanukkah, with an emphasis on eight nights of gifts. Not about to commit to Christmakkah, I told her that she could get Hanukkah presents (her face lit up), but that meant no Christmas presents (her face dropped). She had to pick one gift holiday for December. She considered the prospects, weighed the number of gifts she expected for Christmas vs. a week long Hanukkah celebration, and picturing eight nights of Christmas-level gifts, she was about to declare Hanukkah the winner. I reminded her of her friend Joshua and how he gets a fun toy on the first night of Hanukkah, maybe some books the second night, but the rest of the nights feature clothing gifts. “Clothes?” she asked. “And no Santa,” I added. “I’ll stay with Christmas” was her quick response.
We’ve stuck with Christmas, but we celebrate Hanukkah, normally on night one, but due to piano lessons and other weekday stress, we put it off until the weekend this year. After playing with the dreidel, the kids laughed while I read The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming. That was when my daughter made the connection between the number of nights the oil lasted during rededication of the Temple and the number of candles on the Hanukkah menorah. Apparently explaining the connection once a year is not equivalent to learning from a humorous tale.
Once finished for the night, my kids fought over the last step: blowing out the candles. The candles were almost completely burnt out, but the kids elbowed each other aside to get closer, much like their other favorite event of the year: their own birthday parties. Hanukkah has a little something for everyone, including gentiles.