Hannukah and Christmas

or, how we spent the third weekend in Advent, 2004

December 11th and 12th were busy days for us this year, filled with Sarah's Hannukah party on Saturday night and with tree-buying on Saturday and tree-trimming on Sunday. Read on for a look at festivities.

Since it rained all day--and I do mean all day--on Friday, we were thrilled when Saturday turned out to be only grey, foggy, chilly, and misty rather than sopping wet. There's nothing like 24 hours of steady rain to get in the Christmas spirit, after all (or Hannukah, for that matter). From Cambridge (at left) you couldn't even see that Boston existed.

We rented a Zipcar Mini Cooper for our tree-buying excursion, as is our tradition (three years now, baby. . . three years!), but we first mailed Christmas presents to Illinois family and then did a little food shopping, letting the supermarket employees load the bags into our spacious trunk. Then we headed up to Union Square for tamales for lunch (they're true Christmas food, and as they're off the T line, we get them very seldom) and to the Union Square florist/garden supply place to buy our tree. Bypassing the more expensive Fraser firs, we instead chose a shapely, full but not fat tree a little taller than Robert. It's actually slightly smaller than other trees we've had on top of the car, and the ride home went smoothly: once there, we found a spot right out front, and of course we knew just what to do with an old sheet to get the tree up the stairs without shedding too many needles.

At home, we set the tree in the stand, levelled it, watered it, and cut off the net wrapping. Then we let the branches relax, not decorating it until the next day.

On Sunday I gave Robert a remote control set that can control two different sets of Christmas lights, indoor or outdoor, and make them blink at three different speeds (blinding, incredibly blinding, or only mildly annoying), or turn on and off independently of each other. Since we just got new, candy-cane shaped red LED Christmas lights this year at Target, our tree is now most of the way toward Robert's dream of perfectly controlled, remote-activated, multiple-setting LED lights. He loves the lights because they're energy efficient, and he's obsessive about efficiency; I love them because they're cool to the touch, and I'm paranoid about tree fires.

So, after putting on the lights and arranging a latch-hooked tree skirt Aunt Mary and Aunt Grace made us, I began decorating the tree. Did I say "I"? Oops. I mean we. Robert, just recovering from a cold, sat in the blue recliner in the living room and played World of Warcraft, looking over at regular intervals from his gnome character and his mug of mango tea with honey to the tree to comment and compliment. At the end of the day, feeling almost well, he put on a half-dozen or so ornaments of his own (most of the Jedi Council, Han Solo, a Cat in the Hat ornament from Judy last year, and some vivid glass tropical fish); he flawlessly spotted the spaces I'd strategically left bare, and then our tree was finished. As he does every year, Robert pronounced it the nicest tree we've ever had. We're in need of a tree-topper, because ours broke last year, but if I can't find a nice one I'm going to go into glue-gun action, attaching any pretty star ornament to a sturdy clothespin in order to clip it to the top of the tree. Another trip to Target, for supplies? Perhpas. . . . Above, at right, Robert hangs a few ornaments while R2 looks on approvingly.


Sarah's Hannukah party on Saturday night was delightful. We pulled up to her door in our Mini Cooper, managing for once not to get lost on the way to her house, and we were met in the street with Chris's loud honks and whoops. Soon joined by Karen, together we proceeded to "help" Sarah get ready for the party. Robert and I were stationed at the ladder in the middle of the kitchen--it functioned as a kitchen island and prep station, as well as a triple-tiered hotplate. Chris headed over to the stove to make his famous White Hot Chocolate. "Wanna know the secret ingredient?" he asked. "Shh--it's a secret, though!" After much prodding, Karen and I figured out the "secret" ingredient was actually white chocolate. We were not impressed. While we debated the finer points of the definition of "secret," Robert wondered in exasperation why we "fell into Chris's trap. Knowing him," he said, "there were only three possibilities: 1) The secret ingredient is spit. 2) The secret ingredient is loooovve. Or 3) The secret ingredient is white chocolate." I guess I'm relieved it wasn't #1, if you look at it that way.

After awhile, with the other guests arrived and the appetizers nibbled on and the food for the main course mostly ready, we sat down to the long, beautifully decorated tables to feast on potato latkes, green beans, rice, stuffed zucchini and onions, and meatballs. Before the meal, Sarah lit the Hannukah candles and said the Hebrew blessing, and after the first round of food, we all opened our Hannukah crackers to find blue paper crowns and little prizes of puzzles, whistles, and of course dreidels. Here are Robert and me looking dopey in our blue crowns. I have no idea why I look quite so naval.

During dinner, we passed the camera around the table so everyone could take a picture or two. Apparently Chris made the rounds of the table along with the camera--I'm not sure, otherwise, how he managed to be in nearly every shot. I love the put-upon looks--admittedly to varying extents--on Sarah's, my, and Debbie's faces, below, as we pose.

At the other end of the table, people were having fun with the gold coins. Personally, I just ate mine--I didn't bother posing oddly with them. But Karen did the two-eye pose, and then Davis the one-eye pose with an odd crooked finger--joined by Miriam, who was entirely sans coins for some reason. I don't get it at all--I just post the pictures, apparently.

Between dinner and dessert, some people were dispatched to the kitchen to wash dishes, while the rest of us disassembled the tables and chairs and cleared the floor for some serious dreidel-playing. At left, Robert, Debbie, and Kim relax after their shows of strength and moving prowesses. Good Hannukah sport Debbie kept her crown on all night long. (Did she sleep with it, too?)

Having only sung the dreidel song briefly, during the five minutes of our kindergarten holiday pageant devoted to non-Christian holidays, most of us were rather rusty, so some clarification of the words was in order. Then Sarah explained the Hebrew characters and their meaning, and we sat down to play in earnest.

Karen and I kept not understanding the point, especially because everyone was being very friendly about loaning coins to those who unluckily ran out. Robert leaned back on the couch and closed his sick eyes long before the end of the game, but we stayed in it until the bitter end. I'm still unclear what actually defined the "end," but it didn't seem to matter very much. I like the way our version of the dreidel game became a sort of Acey-Deucey meets Yankee Swap--very intriguing. At the end, everyone opened up whatever present or presents were near them, and some people traded. No one went away empty-handed: there were fancy dreidels, candles, a snowman-decorating kit, some arts and crafts kits, spices, cocktail recipe books, a truly tacky ice skater lamp (thank you, Christmas Tree Shops, for supplying some of our Hannukah shopping needs!), and a Hannukah oven mitt I opened but quickly gave to Chris upon hearing he has a budding Hannukah kitchen item collection.

Near midnight, as people packed up to head home after all the fun, an exhausted Sarah reclines with her roommate Sarah (posing with Chris's record-bowl on her head). The fleets of candles were mostly extinguished, and there were few leftovers--we were all happy, tired, and full.

Onward to Christmas--right?


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Created: 12/13/04. Last Modified: 12/13/04.