Yesterday evening, a small army of us gathered at the home of our friends Laura Belle and Don to celebrate the unusual confluence of Christmas and the first night of Chanukah.
Unusual, yes. It’s not uncommon for Christmas to fall some time during the eight days of Chanukah. Some years there’s no overlap at all, as was the case last year – but the last time the first night of Chanukah fell on Christmas Day was back in 1959. The next time won’t be until 2024, nineteen years from now - although in 2016, Chanukah will begin on Christmas Eve.
A tradition of long standing in our family is the annual Momma d’Elisson Memorial Chanukah Dinner. On the first night of Chanukah, we eat potato latkes – and takeout Chinese food. My Mom was a big fan of the takeout Chinese, a fine choice of Chanukah Cuisine because it’s fried (stir-fried counts, right?) – but we supplement it with potato latkes because, after all, it ain’t Chanukah without the latkes.
Latkes: It ain’t Chanukah without ’em.
And, since it is a Jewish tradition of sorts to go out for Chinese food on Christmas, the fact that the holidays fell on the same day made our observance even more relevant.
Funny thing is, Laura Belle and Don are not Jewish. Anything but. They’re churchgoing Roman Catholics who had enough Jews eating off their Christmas china yesterday to make a minyan, the quorum of ten adult Jews required for public worship. Laura Belle even ordered up special yarmulkes for the occasion – red suede, imprinted especially for the occasion.
Where else but in America? Where else can we, the Varied Products of a tolerant, pluralistic society, enjoy each other’s company and each other’s friendship without losing our own ethnic and religious identities? It’s not the kind of stuff that makes headlines at Fox News - the nation’s premier purveyor of discord and divisiveness - but it’s an everyday part of our lives.
Nephew William lights the first candle.
Elisson sings Ma-oz Tzur (Rock of Ages).
We fired up candles on three – count ’em! – three Chanukah menorahs, complete with the appropriate blessings and recitations. The forms must, after all, be obeyed. And then it was time to eat.
Food there was aplenty, with the table groaning under the massive weight of SWMBO’s potato latkes, platters of Moo Shu Chicken, Mongolian Beef, Cashew Chicken, and fried rice. As if that were not enough, Laura Belle made up a couple of troughs full of lokshen kugel – traditional noodle pudding – and I roasted a whole beef tenderloin and cranked out some kick-ass horseradish sauce to go with it. SWMBO also contributed a humongous baked Brie en croute, because nothing says “stop your heart” like a honkin’ big wheel of semi-molten cheese encased in raspberry mustard and a pastry crust.
Meat: It’s (some of) what’s for dinner.
Dessert? Yes, there was some of that, too. Laura Belle is a fiend in the Dessert Kitchen, after all. There were cannoli, dreidel-shaped sugar cookies, sugar-dusted pizzelles, and al manner of miscellaneous sweet stuff.
“Miracle of Chanukah,” my ass. The fact that I am able to walk even now, after gorging like that, is the real stuff of miracles.