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As a child, my father’s family gathered at my grandparent’s house to celebrate Hanukkah. The celebration began at sundown with my sister and me helping light the menorah. We’d then keep ourselves occupied until dinner was ready by playing dreidel or trying to figure out what wonderful gifts we were getting. Mmm…Hanukkah dinner… my grandmother’s delicious brisket and my mom’s latkes – something I always looked forward to! But as good as dinner was, I was there for one thing – presents! After dinner, we’d make our way to the living room, where one by one, presents would be passed out and opened. I am not sure what the adults did after this, but for the rest of the evening I was immersed in my toys.
As I’ve grown older, Hanukkah has become less a holiday for getting presents and more a holiday for getting together with family, sharing in their warmth, and sharing the story of Hanukkah with the next generation. Last year, Julie and I, along with my children, Jacob and Caleb, spent our first Hanukkah together. I reveled in my children’s delight at playing dreidel and opening presents, and through Julie, I saw Hanukkah again for the first time. It was then that I realized Hanukkah has always been about sharing a special time with family and friends…
I consider myself lucky. Not many people remember their first holidays. Of course, I don’t remember my first Christmas – I was 6 months old. But I will always remember my first Hanukkah. I remember feeling nervous on the drive to Bryan’s Uncle Mike and Aunt Susan’s house, but I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was because I know how important it is that holiday gatherings go well; perhaps it was because I’d never been to a Hanukkah celebration before. To be honest, I’d never been to any non-Christian holiday celebration before. I had no idea what to expect, though Bryan did his best to assure me it would be much like the other family gatherings I’d been to.
The first things I noticed as we pulled up to the house were the window clings of Stars of David and menorahs where Christian families would have trees and Santa Claus. There were no lights outside, but the whole house was lit up from the inside, emanating a warmth that spilled into the yard. Even before we were up the steps, the front door opened to Susan greeting us with “Welcome! Happy Hanukkah!” We all gathered before the meal to light the menorah; Bryan’s cousins Ben and Rachel sang the blessing in Hebrew. After a scrumptious meal, the present sorting began – it was loud and boisterous and so much fun. We spent the evening talking and laughing and watching the kiddos play with their gifts. It was a great night – relaxed, warm, welcoming, and I’m eagerly awaiting my second Hanukkah…
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