It’s Hanukkah time of the year at our house. Everything is hurry, hurry and then go faster. Parents tell … or warn … the kids that soon all the relatives will be showing up for a big dinner and then the ceremony of the lighting of the candles. Most of these relatives we see, fortunately for us, only this once a year.
In many families, the feast is on the eighth night, the last of the ceremonial requirements for Hanukkah. This is after going through the required number of days when the annual holiday is celebrated by Jewish families.
For kids, especially those in America, it also means lots of presents, so they won’t feel deprived of the joys experienced by their playmates. In other words, Jewish kids are just as spoiled rotten as their Christian pals.
For both grown-ups and kids in the host family where the big eighth-night meal is held, it is a hectic time. All the traditional dishes must be prepared, including broiled and boiled chicken, soup, matzo balls, pickled herring, chopped liver and all the other artery-busting necessities.
If Mom or Dad can get some of the cheapskate visiting relatives to contribute to the festivities, it can help. There must be an elderly relative who still knows how to make big matso balls, with the size and heaviness of hand grenades. Another can show up with a big platter of homemade pickled herring that smells up our house for weeks afterward.
For those who can’t eat the spicy, heavily-salted herring, some other volunteer may be persuaded to bring a supply of sweet and mild gefilte fish. This is usually made of chopped carp, a bottom-feeder fish who eats stuff spelled slightly different than its name.
To top off the volunteer suppliers, there has to be an elderly amateur baker in the family who will bring a big tasty honey cake. This will not only add to the overload of calories, but contain enough honey and sugar to rot the teeth of everyone in the house.
After all have dined at the enormous meal, and loosened zippers and belts, it’s time for the final Hanukkah ceremony. This is to light the candles on the eight-place candelabra, called the menorah. Often the youngest family members or guests are given the honor.
First, the central candle, called the shamus, is lit. Then, in sequence the others are ignited by using the shamus on each. If other youngsters are present, they may also be allowed to light a candle in the succession.
After all of the candles are lighted, a prayer of blessing is offered by the hostess for the celebration. Actually, the prayer is more necessary during the lighting, as we all hope desperately that one of the kids won’t light a curtain or dozing elderly relative.