When I was a kid growing up in Queens, we lived in a two bedroom apartment. There was a tiny vestibule where you could either go upstairs to our neightbors or turn left and walk into our place. There was a window and a radiator (where on Passover we would put a wine glass for Elijah). The living room had a sofa, a television on a wheeled TV cart, a dresser, my baby dresser that my daughter now uses, and possibly a chair, but I don’t recall that detail. It flowed into the dining room which had a doorway to the kitchen.
At Chanukah, we never had an electric menorah when we lived here. It was a brass one with a lion at the back and the shamas way up on top with a row of eight candle holders below. We would set this menorah up on the dining room table on a piece of tin foil for the wax to melt onto. Each day, we’d add another candle and watch them burn brightly until they flickered out.
We’d eat latkes and play dreidl with pennies for the pot.
Along the bottom of my baby dresser, my parents set up three piles of wrapped presents, eight gifts in each pile, and every night after we lit the candles we could choose a gift. Just one.
There was a lot of shaking and feeling of shapes going on every night. I have a very clear memory of wondering if I should open the Barbie doll or her clothes first, so distinctive was their packaging.
For our interfaith family now, we usually have done one large gift for the first night of Chanukah. Only once did we do eight gifts. It just gets too expensive. We do light the candles and use an electric menorah, the candle menorah in the dining room and the electric menorah in the living room. I always get my kids a new dreidl and a mesh baggie of gelt which they devour pretty quickly.
These are the traditions that make a holiday memorable and worth celebrating year after year.
I’m posting this a bit early because Chanukah isn’t until Christmas Eve this year, but that just gives us more to celebrate all throughout the month from Thanksgiving to the New Year.
Happy Chanukah to all.