It was one of those “What?? Already??” moments. Yet the signs had been there… the Christmas lights, the £5 boxes of Quality Street chocolates in the supermarket, but the penny had not dropped. Even the constant hints from my son about getting an electric guitar and the Argos (mail order) catalogue open on the electronic gadgets page did not rouse me from by blissful oblivion. Yes, it took the singing of Adon Olam to the tune of Ma’oz Tzur in shul on Shabbat morning, to make me realise that it was less than a month until Chanuka.
In my youth there’d been more of a build up. A heimishe Advent calendar in my head. I’d like to think that it wasn’t all about the presents, but it was. And what presents we got. My sister and I were lucky enough to have grand-parents all with a multitude of siblings and we cashed in big time. Chanuka Geld was very plentiful and I’m not just talking about those little bags of chocolate coins . My parents were very generous too, sometimes giving us a gift after every candle was lit. (At this point, you are probably thinking that I’m a right spoilt brat. Tis true, it was possibly present overload, but some of them were inexpensive and practical – like Crayola pencil crayons or a pair of socks with individual different coloured toes. And anyway, I’ve turned out an incredibly grounded and very, very sensible individual…despite one of the, ahem, inexpensive and practical presents once being an Atari.)
I haven’t been so fortunate, however, receiving presents as an adult. My husband peaked with the first birthday present he ever bought me – a bottle of Moet and Chandon. Since then it’s all been downhill. Taking hints (or mind reading as he calls it) is not his forte and apparently phrases like “ooh, I really like Coldplay – they’ve got a new album out” are just too cryptic. Nineteen years of marriage and you learn to choose your battles. My attitude is now DIY. I choose, buy and wrap my own presents. This year I’m getting a wine rack and a cocktail shaker. I’m not planning on drinking more, I’m just trying to be more organised about it. Last week a small bottle of wine fell off our Jenga-like overflow shelving system. It was a terrible waste of alcohol, but on the plus side our garage smells like the Napa Valley.
It’s not all about the presents though, it’s also about the food. Now, I believe there are 3 types of mums on Chanuka.
- Those who put frozen latkes in the oven.
- Those who use a packet mix.
- The Balobusta extraordinaire who slaves over the grating of the potatoes. Who squeezes out that horrible starchy stuff and who fries them all until they reach the height of delicious crispiness.
I really had planned to be Mum Number 3 this year. Then I saw the packet mix in the cupboard. I picked it up. It was probably out of date. Nope, it was 2015. 2015!! What do they put in there, pure preservative? If the kids are good I may do two batches – one packet, one fresh. (This will probably mean that only my daughter gets the fresh ones, with my son lucky to get one of those frozen triangular affairs.)
Chanuka was a big deal in school. Some of the mums came in to fry latkes for the party. If your mum came it was just the biggest excitement ever. Your. Mum. In. School. (I’m talking about the age before your parents get embarrassing, of course.) The songs too were the best fun and we still sing “Ma‘oz tzur yeshua ti, the cat’s in the cupboard and you can’t catch me.” Where did this come from? It doesn’t even scan the same. I think it’s just one of those things that stuck. There’s another Hebrew song that got changed, the one about the clown. “Ulay, ulay, ulay tirkod iti” became “ulay, ulay, ulay to cottage cheese.”
We have our own family one to the U2 song “Stuck in The Moment”, but it was a genuine mistake by my then three-year-old daughter.
“You’ve got to get yourself together, you got stuck in the Marmite and you can’t get out of it.”
Chanuka is all good, a lovely family time. We get our kids the odd present (they certainly buy me the ‘odd’ present) and we aim to light the candles together every single night. Of course, we still haven’t worked out without looking at the leaflet which way you put the candles in the menorah. Then there’s which way you light them. Even with the leaflet we still manage to disagree. We partake of a doughnut or too as well, for religious reasons, of course. We’ve even been known to play the famous ‘who can eat a doughnut without licking their lips game.’
Chag Hanuka sameach everyone and may all your latkes be home made.