Shaindle’s Shpiel

Back in the olden days, when my girls were little and our family numbered six, the children opened one little, creatively wrapped gift each of the eight nights of Chanukah.

Our home was decorated with the girls’ handmade Chanukah objets d’art. Paper chains were popular. I was never sure why or how the paper chains signified Judah and his Maccabees, but far be it from me to question a Hebrew school teacher.

This particular teacher was not rehired when my hubby took on the volunteer position of principal of the Hebrew school and changed the day for school from Sunday to Saturday so children could experience what they were learning. A story for another time.

There was this one year the girls and I decorated the six-pack of beer we were giving my hubby for Chanukah. We packed the beer in a cardboard box made to look like a refrigerator. We were so anxious to see his reaction to our refrigerator that we could hardly keep from giggling.

Of course, he thought we were giggling about the gift, so he tore it open, thereby destroying our refrigerator without extolling the virtue of our teamwork or our creativity. Still, when he saw the gift, he acted as if he had never seen anything quite so magnificent.

Skipping forward to modern times (that would be now), Chanukah continues to be about Judah and fighting for religious freedom, but the gift giving has taken on a whole new meaning. I quote: “If you really loved me, you would buy me a (insert expensive gift) for Chanukah.”

I deliberately did not name names; I’d like to live to that magical number of 120.

At our Yom Kippur break fast this year, daughter No. 3 announced, “Everyone pick a name.” We all knew what to do; we’d just never participated in the game before Thanksgiving.

“Tonight?” I said, askance (I have never used this word before).

“Yes, Mom, tonight. That way we’ll have more time, and we can catch sales as they become available.”

Daughter No. 4 brought forth a big bowl filled with little pieces of folded paper, each with a different name. The adults picked one piece of paper and kept secret the name of the picked person.

Daughter No. 3 then informed us she had created an Excel sheet with everyone’s name, including all the children, with spaces for gift wishes. An Excel sheet! What has this world come to?

When we were 10 in the family, including my four girls’ four men, we all exchanged Chanukah gifts. Everyone received lots of gifts. We continued this tradition until we were up to 20 in the family. Orchestrating the opening of the gifts became as complicated and intricate as a Steven Spielberg movie. And do not get me started on the cost. Robbing a bank was seriously considered.

After a few years of this organized chaos, I had the unmitigated gall of suggesting we no longer participate in adult gift giving but give gifts only to the kids. I am lucky to still be alive. You would have thought I suggested putting a contract out on their lives.

We’ve tried many permutations of who opens gifts first. One year we opened gifts by family, chosen by picking numbers from one to 10. That raised the question of why one family got to pick first.

Another time we tried the age thing. None of the adults wanted to be the oldest, especially me. So that did not work out too well. Of course, the oldest kids thought it ingenious, and they all jumped with joy.

You must be wondering where I keep all those gifts. Some years there are more than 60 gifts. I set up our piano room with each of the five families in a different area. Wooden nameplates are placed around the room so everyone knows exactly where to put the gifts.

This year I think I will suggest opening gifts in alphabetical order. Of course, we have too many J’s, so we are back to the age thing, with the youngest J going first. Each person picks one gift at a time, reads the card, is required to thank the gift giver, then opens the gift to great applause. Cute, right?

Is it over yet?