There are not many opportunities for Jewish smugness, or at least not that I know of. As I child in England, I walked past shelves of milky chocolate Easter eggs stuffed with more milky chocolates inside knowing that when Passover came, instead of eating milky chocolate, my family would be eating like inmates in a Soviet prison camp. And I’m not exaggerating. Nobody in the 1980’s was pouring caramel onto matzoh and drizzling it with chocolate and sea salt.
Any smugness at all came around Hanukkah. Even though we too had been consumed by gift-giving, our giving is generally confined to our children. I watched my non-Jewish friends run themselves into the ground buying gifts for their brothers and sisters in-law, and all their nieces and nephews, not to mention their parents. We are known for making ourselves crazy with holiday prep (Passover, anyone?), but this was a mishigas we did not share.
(I will say that as parents, we have abandoned the eight nights of presents shitshow because that turned into a nightmare of ungratefulness, wherein certain children would cry about the bad presents (always the same children, it should be said) and we’d live in fear of the next night’s unboxing. Also, eight nights times five children = forty presents and I just cannot think of that many things to buy for someone who is not me. A word of advice to anyone with small children: IT IS NOT TO LATE TO ABANDON THE EIGHT NIGHT BULLSHIT.)
For a very old people, we do get consumed by newness. I quite like the Elf on a Shelf, because frankly, I like an elf. But please, keep that Mensch on the Bench far away from me. First of all, a mensch is Yiddish for a good person, specifically a good man. This mensch looks like a stereotypical rabbi, maybe even a chassid, and while I am married to a man for whom chassidic music is the soundtrack of his life, I don’t particularly need to put a chassidic rabbi on a shelf. No thank you.
And then came the Mystery Maccabee, the chosen people’s answer to Secret Santa. We started doing it as a family for one of the night’s of Hanukkah because, frankly, Mystery Maccabee turns everyone into a giver. The same children still cry, but often M and I are not the culprits.
It was when the Mystery Maccabee went to school that everything went to shit. Several children are in several Mystery Maccabee exchanges which means that I get a string of texts of things we need to buy. Often the children tell each other exactly what they went, which sort of begs the question: WHERE IS THE MYSTERY IN THAT? Because all of this is made easier by group chats, one child may actually be in five separate gift swaps, one of which sent us to Sephora for a certain sweet and sticky lip mask. Now, I don’t begrudge a child a good lip mask. If I had known about a lip mask at twelve, I would have asked for one, but for some reason, this lip mask pushed me over the edge. (I will be pulling a reverse O’Henry and having this child sell her hair to pay for all the gifts.)
So to this, I say, like the mensch on the bench and the Hanukkah bush, let this be a tradition we do not adopt. After all, at some point in my adult life, we added donuts to the Hanukkah celebration. Let’s not pretend any of us were eating Hanukkah donuts as children. This seems like more than enough newness for me.
Happy Hanukkah everyone!