Hanukkah Memories: Socks, Underwear & Dreidels Made of JELL-O

by on March 7th, 2015
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Ah, Hanukkah! A time of fried foods, candle lighting, and in recent times, gift giving. Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights celebrated by Jews around the globe for eight nights. Every Jewish family has its own way of making latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and eating gelt (chocolate coins) while playing dreidel. While there are eight nights of presents, there are unlimited special memories. Two of our family traditions hold a special place in my heart; our yearly party, and gift of socks, underwear and bees.

In our home we combine tradition and fun with a holiday party. What began as a Hanukkah party has evolved into a multi-cultural event. When our Muslim, Wiccan and Christian friends began to join us in celebration we found ourselves not wanting to leave out their traditions, so we now host a “holiday party”. Each year, traditionally on the Saturday that falls in the middle of Hanukkah, we open our doors to guests. Everyone brings foods that reminds them of their holiday, and join us in a potluck dinner. The festivities are always different. In years past we have hosted song contests where you re-write the traditional Hanukkah song “I Have a Little Dreidel”, with our all time winner by a Christian friend. Traditionally the song goes:

I have a little dreidel, I made it out of clay, and when it’s dry and ready, dreidel I shall play. Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay. Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel I shall play.

Our friend’s versions became:

I have a little dreidel, I made it out of JELL-O, and when I tried to spin it, it fell apart, well hello!

Latkes, now that is another thing. Traditionally latkes are potato, egg, flour and a little salt and pepper. Yes, they are yummy, but this is Texas. We decided that if we could alter a song, why not alter a latke? With that came rounds of latke contests. My personal favorite (could it be because it was mine?) was made with sharp cheddar cheese and jalapenos.

This year the Saturday during Hanukkah falls on December 24th. We decided it would not be fair to our non-Jewish friends to hold a party on Christmas Eve so we broke tradition by holding the party early. We also had each family bring a small gift for every other family. At the end of the night we bags full of gelt, dreidels, homemade cookies, even socks for our guests to take home. This brings us to my very favorite Hanukkah tradition, one that never fails to bring memories flooding back, the way we give gifts. You see many people do not realize that Hanukkah is a minor Jewish Holiday. There are many reasons Hanukkah developed into the holiday it is today in America, but the fact remains it is a minor religious holiday. As an adult I have been determined to not allow my children to forget this. In pondering how to both enjoy the holiday, and keep focused on the holiday itself, we developed a gift giving schedule.

The first night of Hanukkah began as a play of off the old Saturday Night Live skit about Hanukkah Harry, a fabricated Jewish counterpart to Santa Claus. Instead of bringing toys to good little boys and girls Hanukkah Harry brings gifts to all children, but not toys. Being sensible, Hanukkah Harry brings socks and underwear! Thus the tradition of getting socks and underwear for the first night of Hanukkah began. Lest you think the children hate the idea, this is one of our most fun nights. By the time the kids are old enough to understand the night, they begin putting in “orders” for specific items. We have had requests for everything from hounds tooth socks, to toe socks, to nursing bras for our expectant daughter.

The second night we decided to focus on the importance of education, so we give books. This night always brings longer lists. This year’s choices ranged from Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, to Geology books, to Five Little Gefiltes. Seeing our children reading each other books and discussing their favorite characters and authors will warm any Mother’s heart. By November each year my children are calling me with their book wishes.

No Jewish holiday is complete without a night for charity, which for us in night three. Like most families in America, there are many things we want, but honestly have very few needs. Each year we pick a different charity to donate to. One year we chose to adopt a family for Christmas for Hanukkah. This year we are donating bee hives from Heifer International.

Night four, we have a family night with a gift we can enjoy together. Last year it was a weekend trip, this year it is a karaoke machine. It does not have to be expensive, this year we spent $100, just something that we can do together.

The remaining four nights are random nights. This is where the more traditional toy type gifts come in. While we may do “theme” nights, this is where the kids tell us what they would like to have, and we do our best to comply. However, the greatest memories for us, and our kids, come from those first four nights. They will forget who got the doll what year, or who got what video game another, but they will not forget sitting together and laughing at the funny socks one got, or hearing another read from her favorite book. They do not forget what charity we give to, or the sense of pride gained from handing over toys to Marines for Toys for Tots. So, all in all, I suppose this makes my greatest memory of Hanukkah, making memories with my family!

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