In terms of religious importance, Chanukah may not be all that big of a deal, but for anyone who was once a kid — presumably everyone, right? — it once was the most wonderful time of the year, to borrow from a decidedly non-Jewish holiday carol.
And when something is deemed important, it probably created some memories somewhere along the way.
Here’s what some Jewish Exponent staffers remember about past Chanukahs.
Reggae CD Makes for a Novel Chanukah
If there’s one gift that screams Chanukah, it’s reggae music — right?
With the hype of Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” and Eight Crazy Nights, the pressure to compete and make a holiday hit was greater than ever back in the early ’00s.
Already known to purchase eccentric and unnecessary items, my father came home with a new novelty in advance of a Chanukah evening: a Chanukah reggae CD.
The 2000 album Reggae Chanukah by Alan Eder and Friends puts a reggae spin on some favorite hits, like “The Latke Song,” “Rye And Dready” and “Chanukah, Skanukah” — the remix you never knew you needed.
It’s “samba meets mambo for some salsa on their latkes,” per the album’s description.
Nothing puts you in the Chanukah spirit like hearing “dreidel, dreidel, dreidel” set to one-drop Caribbean reggae and West African drums.
It was like another cheesy iteration of Now That’s What I Call Music!, where the songs feel trite and no one ever asked for it in the first place.
And you better believe that CD had a cozy, semi-permanent new home in my father’s car CD player. (Fortunately, its whereabouts have since become unknown.)
Scavenging for Presents
Chanukah is always one of the definite times of year my family comes together. The cousins are home from college, my aunt makes her famous latkes and new traditions are born every year.
There were matching outfits one year for me, my sister and our cousin because of course there were. There was a chant before actually opening the presents, which was literally just “Present time!” I didn’t say it was creative.
But one fun memory that comes to mind was a scavenger hunt in which my aunt and uncle hid everyone’s presents around their house (it was three floors, so it could be anywhere) and we all ran around frantically embarking on a treasure hunt.
All the presents were marked, and if we found one that didn’t have our name on it, we couldn’t tell the true recipient where their present was hidden. I found one of mine in a cabinet I opened by chance. The next challenge was making sure our four-legged cousin Snickers didn’t get a hold of the discarded wrapping paper, which made opening presents more like a Jenga game.
Needless to say, it took a while. And there is some discrepancy about how many scavenger hunts were held; I thought it was one time, my sister thinks we did it two or three years, my mom doesn’t even remember it happening.
“We did?” she answered when I asked how many times we did it.
(My aunt noted she thinks it was three years.)
Now that the family is bigger since the last time we did this, maybe we will make new memories that everyone actually remembers.
An Unexpected Celebration in Italy
Selah Maya Zigehlboim
I studied abroad last fall in Spain. With finals behind me, I spent my winter break traveling through Europe. A few days before Chanukah began on Dec. 24, I met up with a friend in Rome.
Shops began closing for Christmas Eve in the hours leading up to the first night of Chanukah. We decided to try and find one of Chabad’s trademark giant public menorah lightings in Rome. We found the date, time and place fairly easily on their site and arrived at the plaza right on time.
I expected to see a crowd when I arrived — a group of Jews and perhaps some non-Jews schmoozing and getting ready for the lighting.
Instead, we arrived to a completely deserted plaza. The menorah was there, with one branch and the shamash already lit, as well as a sign wishing us a happy Chanukah from the Chabad-Lubavitch of Rome. We had definitely found the right place, but there was no one there.
We took some pictures of ourselves in the empty plaza, then left, slightly disappointed to have missed out on candle lighting the first night.
The next day, almost everything in Rome was closed. We headed off to one of the few parts of Rome where this was not the case — the Jewish Ghetto.
That evening, we happened across a public menorah lighting in the streets of the ghetto.
A significant crowd of about 50 was singing and reciting the blessings over the menorah.
I was a little baffled at first, to have come across an unexpected Chanukah celebration. Though I was in the Jewish Ghetto, I didn’t know how much of a presence Jewish people still had there.
We joined in right away. Though not where we had anticipated, we had managed to find a public menorah lighting in the end.
Underpants Night Not a Favorite
While The Goldbergs resemble the Gotliebs in many ways — a suburban Jewish family with three kids (including often-combative brothers) in the 1980s — the show generally doesn’t reflect my experience growing up.
That said, a few things ring true, particularly a December 2015 episode titled “A Christmas Story.”
In that episode, one plot line centers around the family’s three children being underwhelmed by the gifts received on many of the eight days of Chanukah.
Drawing particular scorn from Adam, Barry and Erica was “underpants day.”
I could relate because — although my mother now denies it occurred — we had underpants day at least one time.
Granted, we were somewhat-spoiled upper-middle class kids, but who’s going to get excited about a pack of tighty whities? That’s right, nobody.
Some of the other nights were less-than-exciting as well.
Calendar night, book night, puzzle night and board game night (unless it was Stratego; pro tip: place your spy behind your general and wait for your opponent to use his marshall) were all met with various groans.
In my mother’s defense, there’s no way to provide good (also known as expensive) gifts each night and there usually was a night that made up for all the duds, such as when we got an Atari 2600.