by Bubby/Auntie Bessie

When I was a child the holiday I loved best was Chanukah.   I have wonderful memories of the family - aunts, uncles, and cousins, being together in my grandparents' home to celebrate the lighting of the candles on the first night of Chanukah.

When we arrived, my grandmother gave each child a little sack which she had made.   It had a drawstring and we put it on like a string of beads.

The menorah was in its place.   It was beautifully decorated, with eight branches, four on each side, and an extra one in the middle.   The middle one was for "Shamus" (the guard) and it was used every night to light the other candles.   The little orange-coloured candles represented the oil that, by a miracle, lasted for eight days.   I loved that story that my grandfather told us every Chanukah.

Then we all sat down to the traditional meal - soup, roast goose with "latkes"* and dessert of mixed stewed dried fruit.   I remember the latkes were not made of potato, but rather were made of buckwheat flour.   They were grey, the colour of lead, and we called them "blechineh latkes" meaning lead pancakes.   They were served with gravy or fat from the roast.   When we get together my cousins and I still talk about these pancakes, but not one of us has the recipe.

After the meal we went to each adult, who put coins (one penny or even sometimes five cents) into our little sack.   At that time it was not the custom to exchange gifts and we all looked forward to getting "Chanukah gelt".**

We played with a "dreydle", a small metal top-like toy which had letters of the (Hebrew) alphabet on four sides.   We had a game, spinning the top.   Depending on which letter it stopped and fell at, we would either win or forfeit the portion of our Chanukah gelt that had been wagered on that spin.

The grown-ups did what grown-ups do and everyone had a good time.   Usually the younger children fell asleep and had to be awakened and dressed to go home.   They were cranky and cried all the way home.   My mother called it music.

Editor's Notes:
*   The word "latke" means pancake (of any type) but is generally assumed to mean potato pancake unless specified otherwise.

**   "Gelt" means money. Traditionally, adults gave a few coins to children at Chanukah. Nowadays the gelt is usually in the form of chocoate coins and gifts are exchanged more or less lavishly, depending on your particular family or community practice.

Painting by Bessie Sager
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