Connections: Gifted

The combined Rattray and Heilbrunn families are celebrating Hanukkah late this year, so late in fact that the festivities will be the day after Christmas, also known as Boxing Day (at least in Great Britain).

Elaine and Karl Heilbrunn, my daughter-in-law’s parents — does that make them my in-laws, too? I have never been clear on that — have always gathered relatives and friends for a big party during Hanukkah in Northwest Woods. It was they who introduced my grandchildren to the notion that not only Christmas but also Hanukkah brought presents galore.

The doubling of the presents was new to them because it was new to me. Hanukkah just wasn’t a big event when I was growing up. My grandfather would give my brother and me silver dollars as Hanukkah gelt, and it would be the only gift we expected. The holiday was more of an observance than a celebration, with the lighting of candles for eight nights on the Hanukiah, a candelabra with nine candleholders rather than eight, which are on the Jewish menorah. (The ninth candle represents the miracle of the oil that the Bible tells us burned for eight days when there was only enough for one after the temple was regained.)

In the decades since, of course, many Jewish families have begun giving children gifts on each of the eight nights, perhaps hoping to stem any wishfulness about the Christmas splurge being showered on friends and neighbors of other faiths. I do recall that we gave our children nightly presents during Hanukkah, at least for a few years, when they were little, but they were modest: a chocolate treat or a deck of cards. Basically, however, Christmas took center stage in the “mixed” Rattray household — half Presbyterian, half Jewish — with stockings crammed full and wrapped boxes overflowing from beneath the white pine tree.

Now, the grandchildren have the best of both worlds, at least from a celebratory perspective. And a culinary one, I must add: Elaine Heilbrunn makes a mean latke, and I hope I won’t shock you when I admit we are expecting to enjoy them alongside a baked ham at our quite unorthodox Belated Hanuk­kah Boxing Day fete.

By the time Boxing Day rolls around, we will be on our third consecutive day of celebration, starting with a goose and Secret Santa on Christmas Eve, followed by a round of visits to various relatives’ houses on Christmas Day itself. The jollity (and, with a half-dozen kids in the mix, the noise) will be nonstop this week, and I rather expect we’ll be ready for a quiet and contemplative New Year.