Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hanukkah Lights

The light of a thousand menorahs (actually about 20)
This past Sunday was my husband Danny's family's annual Hanukkah party. It's a giant extravaganza that has been going on forever. Early in my husband's childhood, it took place at Aunt and Uncle's homes, and then, as the family grew and grew, in his father's Bronx kosher catering hall.

Since the demise of that, it has continued, every year in varying locations, public and private, the common factors being: large, latkes, and loud.

I married into a BIG family. (Did I mention having come from a tiny one, I had always wanted a bigger family? Did I mention that one should be careful what one wishes for?)

Fortunately they are warm and welcoming, inviting and inclusive. My first experience with the Danny Family Hanukkah Party took place in 1998, the year we began to date. (That year it was in the city, as we took over half of Ben's Kosher Deli.)

It's the tradition in his family for people to bring someone to the party when it gets "serious" because it will be noted that there is a date along and there will be kind-hearted teasing about it. It is also where new engagements, upcoming Bar Mitzvah dates and impending additions to the family will be announced with much joy and congratulations.

As I may have mentioned here before (in last year's Hanukkah party post, as a matter of fact) as we walked to the subway together afterwards, heading back to the Upper West Side where we both lived, I remarked to Dan: "I've never been hugged and kissed by so many people I just met in my life." Like I said, warm and inclusive.

Big cousins = big fun

Since then we have stuffed our faces with latkes in the city and the burbs - both Jersey and Westchester - at cousin's homes, kosher delis, synagogue social halls, seminary dining rooms and hotel banquet halls. This year's constellation was Westchester & hotel. Well suited to the growing cadre of young ones who needed halls to run and play touch football in.

When Ethan and Jake were born there had been a baby lull in the family, the youngest cousin's kid being four, with a huge gang in their late teens to late twenties. But when the boys were nine months old, another little cousin joined the family, and since then every year has seen the addition of one to two new ones.

My estimate is that there were about eighteen in the ten and under crowd on Sunday.

A big part of the tradition is that every family brings a menorah, and they are all lit together at the end of the meal. This year, for the second year in a row, we let Ethan do the actual lighting of ours (sniffle, he's no longer my baby, sniffle).

Ethan chanting the candle-lighting blessing (Hebrew School paying off)
Jacob loves all the lights

There is also an obscenely huge Table of Presents that everybody drops their gifts onto when they come in (not pictured this year, for some reason, my documentary photographer skills falling somewhat short). And the final official event of the party is the present toss, where the gifts are handed out to the (mostly) kids and an unwrapping frenzy takes place amidst squeals of delight.

"Thanks, Aunt Patty!"
Jacob groking his Star Wars book
One note of sadness crept into the festivities for me: the absence of my mother. Part of the inclusiveness of Dan's family is that my parents were invited to any and all events. Even though they were from a rather different side of Jewish culture (secular, bohemian) they did often come to the Hanukkah parties and other festivities and were warmly welcomed. 

For the past two years it was lovely to see my mother surrounded by the swirl of family and children, enjoying the scene, even if she wasn't quite sure who anyone besides her two grandsons were.

This year, wheelchair bound and hours of driving away in Long Island, taking her was out of the question. Sigh.

But let's end on a lighter note: Happy Hanukkah to y'all!


  1. Hanukkah Sameah to you all as well. xxx

  2. This brings back so many good memories of similar gatherings in my family when I was a child. It didn't matter what the occasion was for, but there was always lots of food, hugs, kisses, and children running amok. Now we're too far flung for such large gatherings on a regular basis.

  3. This post makes me wish I had married into a nice big Jewish family too. I remember similar gatherings (on a somewhat smaller scale) from my childhood, but the family was distant, has dispersed, and now we live on the other coast. My kids have never known this sort of simcha.

    Oh well, I guess I will just drown our sorrows in latkes! Both the kids know the Hebrew blessing for the candles, play dreidle well, and can recognize a real latke when they see one (right before consuming it). At least some important elements will endure...


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