I have a confession to make. I’m not proud of it, but it’s time to come clean. As a child, I was a brat when it came to Hanukkah presents. In my defense, I was young and driven wild by the mystery of brightly colored packages.
To fully understand my bratty behavior I feel the need to explain the nature of Hanukkah from the perspective of an 8 year old child. I know Hanukkah seems glamorous with 8 days of presents, delicious fried foods you are religiously obligated to eat and the parentally sanctioned opportunity to play with fire. But, the way the presents are doled out is torturous.
My Christian friends would get to stay up until midnight on Christmas Eve to open a present. On Christmas morning, they woke up and ran for the bounty Santa left beneath their trees. They unwrapped everything at once – the utilitarian gifts lost in the glitz of the coveted toys, games and books. Then, they had a week’s vacation from school to stay home and play with all their new loot.
The experience was completely different for me as a Jewish child. More often than not, Hanukkah fell when school was still in session. I’d sit in school all day trying to focus on my work, but my mind would drift to selecting the perfect present from the pile of gifts with my name on them. Choosing wisely was crucial. If I made an error, and selected the package with socks, I’d have to wait 24 more hours to get the item I had been hoping for. When the school day finally ended, I raced home to do my homework while waiting for darkness to come. The moment the sun dipped below the horizon, I began pacing past the window waiting for my dad to come home from work. To keep me at bay for a little while, my mom let me put the candles in the menorah and choose that night’s gift. After careful analysis of the shapes of the wrapped boxes and a comparison of the items on my wish list, I made my selection. What seemed like hours later, my dad came home. We said our prayers, lit our candles and unveiled the gift du jour. Sadly, I had little time to play with my new treasure before I needed to get ready for bed because it was a “school night.”
When I was 8 years old, my big Hanukkah wish was for the eight-track cartridge of the soundtrack from the movie Grease. This was the gift I wanted to open on the first night, thus ensuring 7 extra days of enjoying the music. By chance that year, my brother stumbled upon the pile of wrapped gifts in the back of a closet. He wasn’t looking for them, but a find such as this could not go unexplored.
I had a brilliant idea! When my parents were busy doing whatever it is that keeps parents busy, my brother and I snuck into the closet with a notepad and a roll of scotch tape. Very gently, I unwrapped the corner of each of my packages. Obviously, the contents of the clothing boxes were unidentifiable, but most of the other boxes were. I took precise notes, re-taped the corner of each box and snuck out of the closet. Later that night, I reviewed my list then sequenced the gifts in order of priority for opening. The Grease eight-track cartridge was number one.
The first night of Hanukkah arrived. Before I went to the pile to select that night’s gift, I consulted my list. I chose the box that I was certain contained the Grease soundtrack and ripped the wrapping paper off with glee. To my great surprise and horror, I was wrong! It wasn’t the cartridge. It was underwear. Underwear! On the first night of Hanukkah!
The beauty of Hanukkah is that there is always tomorrow. The next night, I spent more time studying my list and was more careful when selecting my package. Again I was wrong. That night it was a set of Little House on the Prairie books. A great gift for sure, but where was that Grease cartridge? How could I be making such foolish mistakes after such careful and thoughtful planning? Night after night, I was sure I had plucked the Grease soundtrack from the pile and night after night I was stunned when I unwrapped something that wasn’t the Grease soundtrack. I got wonderful presents, but I was stymied.
Finally, the 8th night of Hanukkah arrived. This was it; the last night. Tonight’s gift had to be the Grease soundtrack. I had waited an extra week, but at least I knew I would finally get to hear the sweet sounds of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. I could barely contain myself as the day wore on. We said our prayers and lit our candles, all the while the tune to “Summer Nights’” playing in my head. My parents handed me my last package. I tore off the wrapping paper with a huge smile on my face. I had already started yelling an excited thank you, before I looked down and saw that I was holding a box of Nilla Wafer cookies.
What happened after that is not my proudest moment as a child. Even now, 35 years later, I’m embarrassed to write about it; I pitched the brattiest of bratty fits.
“Cookies?!” I sputtered almost too upset to speak. “Who gets cookies for Hanukkah?!”
“I’m sure lots of children would love to receive a whole box of cookies,” my mom said.
“But these aren’t even the kind of cookies I like to eat. These are Daddy’s favorite cookies!” I yelled. “Here, you can have them,” I said putting the box of cookies down in front of my father before I stormed off to my bedroom and slammed the door.
I sat in the middle of my room trying to figure out how I could have been so wrong about getting the Grease soundtrack. A few minutes later dad knocked and entered my room holding the box of Nilla Wafers.
“Don’t you want any of your cookies?” he asked holding out the box.
“No! I don’t like those cookies. You can have them all,” I said dejectedly.
Dad held the box out to me. “Why don’t you open the box for me?”
“You’re already holding the box. You can open it for yourself,” I said.
“Yes, but it’s your Hanukkah present so you should really offer the cookies to me,” he said shaking the box in front of me.
I could see he wasn’t going to leave me alone to sulk in peace until I gave him a cookie. Reluctantly, I took the box and opened it. As I was passing the box back to him, I saw that it didn’t contain cookies; it contained the Grease soundtrack! A huge smile spread across my bratty little face. I jumped up and hugged my dad.
“Next time, do a better job of rewrapping your presents,” he said laughing as he walked away.
I learned two things that year: never ruin my surprises and always fold the corners neatly when wrapping a present.
**No matter what kind of packages your holiday surprises come in this year, I hope they are filled with laughter and love. **