First, on behalf of all Jewish kids I want to thank Christianity for being born around the same time as Hanukah is celebrated. See, Hanukah is pretty much a back-bencher in the pecking order of Jewish holidays, down there with Gefilte Fish Grinding Day and Aggravation Oy Vey Days. There were no presents or decorations. BC Jews celebrated by lighting the candles, mainly because there was no electricity and they needed some sort of illumination in order to balance their books.
But since Christmas came around things became immediately much better for little Jewish yingele. Astute marketers figured if the goyim kids could score major gifts for their holiday, Hanukah was close enough that it should become a big tsimis, including not just one present, but eight presents…one for each night of the holiday. The kids would be happy, the merchants would make some shekels and parents could maintain their comfortable level of aggravation trying to come up with the goods.
This brings me to how it went down in my house. Rather than the eight gift gambit, we could choose one, big, ridiculously idiotic gift. I can think of three in particular. Two, I received, one, I didn’t because I asked the wrong person, which I’ll explain later.
My first was a three-foot long monstrosity called Bop Baseball. As you can see in the photo, Bop Baseball was equivalent to the old game of Nok Hockey in that it entailed whacking a wooden puck. The game proceeded depending on which circle the wooden puck landed. There were circles for singles, doubles, triples, home runs and outs. The problems were two-fold. One, the damn thing was so large my poor mother struggled to schlep it from the car to the house. Forget wrapping it. The second problem was the wooden puck was really like a doughnut with a hole in the middle. A couple of good whacks and the puck split in three. Bye, bye Bop Baseball.
My second regrettable choice was something called Shop King. This overpriced mistake was made to look like a combination table saw, drill and lathe. But instead of wood, the plastic parts could cut only styrofoam. The problems lay with the fact that Shop King required about a case of batteries which lasted maybe 7 minutes and that the power they provided was so weak the tools barely made pock marks in the styrofoam. Throughly frustrated, I summarily deposed Shop King and banished it to the dungeon below my bed until one day it mysterious disappeared into the kingdom of Dumpster.
Finally, the gift I never received–the Remco Pom Pom Gun. It looked very cool in the TV commercials and made enough noise to sufficiently annoy everyone in our 400 square foot apartment in Queens, New York. The glitch here was that was the year my mother decided I should visit Santa Claus at Macy’s in the Roosevelt Field Shopping Center in Westbury, Long Island. Now, I was only 6 at the time and didn’t realize there was no cross-promotional deal between Santa and Hanukah so I took my shot. “What would you like for Christmas?” Santa asked. “Oh,” I replied as honestly as I could. “I don’t want anything for Christmas. I celebrate Hanukah and I’d like a Remco Pom Pom Gun!”
Santa was not amused by this little tow-headed Jewish kid crashing his holiday, and grunted, “yeah, whatever. Next!” and sent me off his knee as fast as whatever projectile the Remco Pom Pom Gun shot.
Despite these traumas I always enjoy Hanukah. My Episcopalian wife makes the best latkes and matzo ball soup, my (grown) kids receive gifts that fit in their pockets (money), and I still remember all three blessings for the lighting of the candles. No matter how close to Christmas Hanukah falls we give it its full due, and always make sure the Christmas tree isn’t too close to the menorah..and burns for eight days.