As a child, it was impossible for me to appreciate the hard work that my mother went through to make Chanukah special, magical and wondrous. Today, I can look back fondly and revel in the efforts …
As a child, it was impossible for me to appreciate the hard work that my mother went through to make Chanukah special, magical and wondrous. Today, I can look back fondly and revel in the efforts that Mom endured—between work, keeping the house running and still finding time to make Chanukah memories that linger.
My father was a jeweler and far too busy keeping food on the table and a roof over our heads to be burdened with providing magic, so the brunt of celebrating the “Festival of Lights” fell on my mom. She also worked at Dad’s store during the holidays and was woefully overworked, but undaunted in her task to create memorable moments that my sister and I still discuss to this day.
We both complained bitterly that we were given short shrift during the holiday season. We were not oblivious to the colorful lights adorning our neighbors’ homes, stockings filled with toys hanging from their mantels and heaping piles of gifts under those beautiful Christmas trees—gifts that our non-Jewish friends appeared to reap from the mystical Santa who never slid down our chimney. In an effort to appease, my mother once decorated a branch with blue and silver glitter, but it wasn’t the same. And it was, after all, “just a dumb stick.”
Because Hanukkah is celebrated over a period of eight nights, we were told the story of Judah and the Macabees* and the miracle that took place during biblical times. We lit the Menorah, recited the prayers solemnly, ate the requisite potato latkes and counted our chocolate coins, known as gelt. We made our Chanukah wishes known and my mother would make a game out it of each night, with notes strewn throughout the house, teasing us with clues to the whereabouts of each individual hidden gift. To make it more exciting, the presents grew in size and desirability as the nights wore on. Socks (a Chanukah staple) were always first on the list, I suspect because Mom knew it was a crushing letdown. That way, the last candle lit on the menorah was greatly anticipated, with the fervent wish that we would get something we actually, truly, desperately desired!
One year, it was the coveted bicycle for each, that unbeknownst to us, our parents, exhausted from working all day, had to spend hours assembling before they could fall into bed. Another year it was stilts. Ahhh, the stilts! My sister and I wanted them so intensely that we momentarily forgot the feeling of being cheated out of a visit with the fat man. The traditional nightly scavenger hunt led to those stilts, which came with a stern warning that they were never, ever to be used indoors.
Naturally, I broke the rule as soon as they were out of the house, and it wasn’t long before I had mastered the art of parading up and down the curved grand staircase in our magical-in-its-own-right Victorian home. On stilts. I even walked to school every day for months, showing off my newfound skills. That’s right, kids: When I was your age, I had to walk to school. In a blizzard. On stilts.
Six, seven and eight-year-old me was obsessed with LEGO and I always looked forward to what new multi-colored bricks Chanukah would deliver. Since she worked at the jewelry store during the holidays, I missed having “special time” with Mom and had little understanding of why she wasn’t at home, so I began writing notes to her about my daily activities at school prior to being put to bed by the babysitter. I would scribble my thoughts down and then enclose them in a LEGO house, or barn, or school, or even a temple, which I laboriously constructed with great detail, including window boxes, battery-operated lights, chimneys, walkways and the like.
Every morning, without fail, I would awake to an entirely new LEGO structure that Mom had built late into the night with a reply to my missive, describing what her day was like and responding to the minute details of my fascinating (IMHO) third-grade life. It wasn’t until many years later that Mom explained how grueling it was to take apart my LEGO house, read my note, write a response and then rebuild a new structure of her own design, replete with turrets, smokestacks and multiple floors, drawn from her own vivid imagination. This tradition created life-long magical memories that still resonate at this time of year.
I had no clue how tired my parents were way back when, nor how hard they had worked to make it all seem so effortless for my sister and me. Looking back now? Wow. I once asked Mom why she didn’t just remove my LEGO roof and put her own note inside. “What fun would that have been?” she responded.
Good old Mom. Thanks for the memories.