Most people who celebrate Hannukah think of that all-important first candle lighting as the Big Event, but you just know our family would have to be different, right? For us, the holiday didn’t really happen until Sunday.
I blame the Hebrew calendar: for reasons that aren’t fully clear to me, Hannukah started unusually early this year, with the result that for the first time, we couldn’t all be together for the first night. Rachel is still in Toronto, finishing up her term assignments; Adrian was busy at work; and Zayde was still in Montreal when Mitchell and I stood together in the kitchen and light the first holiday light.
It went something like this:
Me: (singing while I lit the shamas, the candle that’s used to light all the others) Barukh atah Adonai, (sniff…) Eloheinu, (voice going all wavery as I try to hold back tears) melekh ha’olam…(crying for real now) Oh, screw it. You do the rest. (Handing shamas to Mitchell, who lights the other candle with it)
Mitchell: (patting me on the back) It’s okay, they’ll be here soon….
Not exactly the most successful lighting in the history of the universe.
Second, third, and fourth nights went much better, and I’m pleased to say that I totally scooped the (extremely non-traditional) Betting on the Candles—this is where each person has to choose the candle that they think will outlast all the others. It was a horse race on Saturday night, and despite Mitchell’s cowardly attempt to breathe heavily in the direction of my candle (yellow, in case anyone is keeping track), mine outlasted his by a good 20 seconds.
Not that I was counting.
And on Sunday, it all came together. First, Reuben arrived on the morning train from Montreal; then, after some texting back and forth to wake him up after a hard night playing online games, Adrian showed up. Time to break out the oil and grate those potatoes…
And put out plates of those other Hannukah delicacies, sugared almonds and nummy men.
Nummy men, for the uninitiated, are gingerbread boys. For years, my mother-in-law Phyllis used to make dozens of them, meticulously decorating them with hard icing; she’d always hang a dozen or so from the dining room chandelier. When Rachel was little, she dubbed them “nummy mans,” and the term stuck.
It wasn’t until I started decorating the cookies each year that I realized how much effort Phyllis put into them. They really are a labour of love.
As for the sugared almonds, they are perhaps the easiest recipe ever, and the results are terrifyingly addictive.
In case you’re interested, here’s the scoop: a cup of sugar, a quarter-cup of water, and about a teaspoonful of cinnamon. Mix it up, throw in about three cups of almonds (the kind that still have their skin), and toss. Spread them out on parchment on a baking sheet, and bake at about 275°F. You’ll need to turn them every 15–20 minutes, until the sugar mixture has dried out and crystallized.
Don’t eat them when they first come out of the oven; you’ll burn your mouth. Not that I would know anything about this.
But Sunday wasn’t all about the food (even though I’m pretty sure we all ate enough!). We enjoyed a great visit with Reuben, and then just after sunset we gathered round the table to light the candles. It felt odd without Rachel, so we used the miracle of modern technology to bring her home for a quick visit.
No, she didn’t teleport—we used Mitchell’s laptop to Skype her, and then sat her on the table so she could watch us sing the blessing and light the candles.
Adrian did take pictures of the whole thing, including one with Rachel joining us via tele-presence, but he’s up to his eyeballs in Cyber-Monday shenanigans over at Shopify, so I’ll have to post them on our Facebook page when I get them. Sorry about that.
So for me, Sunday was the true “first day” of Hannukah—the day we gathered as a family to celebrate our old traditions and make some new ones. And eat. A lot. The only way it could have been better is if you’d been there!