I don’t remember my family hosting a lot of big parties when I was young. We had family parties here and there through the years and we hosted a couple of birthday parties for my brothers and for me, but we didn’t have many huge gatherings at our house. The biggest gathering I remember was for my brother’s brit milah1 just after he was born. When I was in middle and high school, my family joined with a group of other families from our synagogue and we started a rotation of holiday parties and other Jewish activities, but we only hosted a few of them. My wife’s family, on the other hand, went all out for everything. They would have between 20 and 30 people at their house for every holiday and would make enough food for twice that many.2 I’m not saying her family did holidays better than mine, just that we had different experiences growing up. And I like to think that now that we’re married and have started our own family, we’ve done a pretty good job of combining traditions from each of our experiences.
On Sunday, we hosted a Hanukkah party for a number of the families we’ve met in our neighborhood. Hanukkah, in case you haven’t heard, is the Jewish holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple following the Jews’ unlikely military victory over the Syrian Greeks. As the story goes, when the Maccabees returned to their desecrated temple, there was only a small amount of oil left for them to use to light the menorah, a ritual conducted on holidays and other special occasions. They lit the menorah anyway, even though there was barely enough oil for one night. The miracle that we celebrate is that the oil ended up lasting for eight nights instead.3 Today, we remember the miracle by eating foods fried in oil, like potato pancakes and jelly donuts. We also play with dreidels, small spinning tops whose Hebrew letters refer to the miracle of the Hanukkah oil. We also exchange gifts, though this is actually a tradition that started much later as a way to assimilate with a fledgling group of people celebrating an obscure holiday called “Christmas.”
Which brings me back to Sunday afternoon. Trudy and I have hosted Hanukkah and other holiday parties for our families and friends since we first started dating. This year marked our second Hanukkah with Eitan, but the first where he really knew what was going on around him (he was only six months old the first time around). We’ve gotten to know a number of families in our community who have kids around Eitan’s age, so we decided to have everyone over. And, as is the tradition, we exchanged gifts and had way too much food.4
We’ve done gift exchanges in the past, including a particularly memorable Yankee Swap a few years ago with our friends from college, but nothing will ever compare to the grab bag we had on Sunday. We put all the gifts in the middle of the living room floor and let all 10 toddlers pick out and unwrap their gift of choice at the same time. I’m still surprised we didn’t get any complaints from our downstairs neighbors, given the chaos that ensued. Shreds of wrapping paper flew everywhere, boxes were thrown and more than a few tears were shed, but everyone left with a gift and no one got hurt.5
I spent a long time trying to think of an angle for this post. I had a couple of options, including the different types of relationships we’re forming with other families, the fact that Eitan has developed the adorable habit of biting people or the way Eitan chose to remove himself from the group and just chill out by himself in the other room for a little while to escape from all the people who had invaded his home. As you can see, I kept it pretty general. One of the things about the party that struck me, though, was when two of the other moms told me that they have been waiting for a new blog post and that they’re getting impatient. I felt flattered, especially since I still get caught off guard when people tell me that they read my blog, let alone that they actually enjoy it. But since people do share those sentiments with me, I also wanted to take this opportunity to say thanks. Thanks for taking the time to read what I’ve written, to comment on my posts or to give suggestions for future posts (which you can do here). Please continue to do all of those, as I’m always looking for feedback. So thank you again, because having you as my audience is a is a miracle that I’ll celebrate even after the holiday is over.
1. Jewish ritual circumcision.↩
2. I’m only slightly exaggerating about the amount of food. At my first Thanksgiving with them, there was a point where I actually asked, “What do you mean, there’s more?”↩
3. This is a great story, but Hanukkah’s dirty little secret is that the “miracle of the oil” didn’t really happen. The original account of the Hanukkah story makes no mention of the miracle of the oil. When the Talmud mentions the miracle, hundreds of years later, it is assumed that the rabbis used that story to put the focus back on God and miracles, rather than celebrating a war.↩
4. I’m starting to think that my job security rests not on my performance level, but on the fact that I continue to bring leftover desserts to work.↩
5. Speaking of miracles…↩