Chanukah started last Sunday evening, about six hours after I left my home for a week of work travel. I have a travel menorah – which is a thing; it folds. And I got as far as pulling it down from the shelf before I left for the airport.
But I didn’t end up packing it, because you can’t really light things on fire with impunity in hotel rooms any more. And anyway I didn’t have enough candles, and by the time I figured that out it was too late to go buy any before I had to leave.
Truth be told, Chanukah is a B-list holiday -- not really all that important from a religious perspective. The Maccabees, whose exploits the holiday commemorates, were apparently fundamentalist thugs, the Taliban of their day. So, not such a big deal to miss it. And yet, lighting the candles has been an important part of my life forever; part of the rhythm of the year. So what do you do when you're traveling for the first five nights?
You trust that God and the Internet will provide.
It's beginning to sound a lot like Christmas....everywhere you go.....
Where I've gone this past week has been Pittsburgh, and then New Orleans. And sound like Christmas it did.
The lobby in the William Penn hotel in Pittsburgh played holiday music nonstop -- only not the good stuff. Look, I have nothing against Christmas music. I enjoy singing carols from time to time; I will never get tired of Eartha Kitt singing Santa Baby, not to mention the Pogues' Fairytale of New York, and I really like the one about the hippopotamus. And who doesn't love a good oratorio? But in the Omni William Penn lobby, it was the Dean Martin version of Silver Bells, and a children's chorus (always a dubious start) singing an anthem to bad parenting called I'm Getting Nuttin' [sic] for Christmas.
It is mid-afternoon when I arrive in New Orleans a little later in the week, and I duck into the first open restaurant I find for a bite to eat. It is 3:00 in the afternoon and the dining room is absolutely empty.
These guys have taken the playlist from the William Penn lobby and made it even worse. And then cranked up the volume. Here's a taste.
It occurs to me that as I am the only customer, I could ask them to turn it off, or turn it down, or turn on the Pogues.
But I don't. I eat and leave, thereby proving, I suppose, that had I been around at the time of the Maccabees, I would not have had what it takes to hold my own as a fundamentalist whack job.
Chanukah came early this year, a scant 20 minutes after the end of Thanksgiving, and it totally bit me on the ass. I forgot to buy candles and didn't do much about presents. But in the airport terminal, waiting for my third flight of the week, I get a great idea. I know that my younger daughter, a college junior, occasionally treats herself to a bagel at the branch of a national chain that is right around the corner from her apartment. So I can get her a gift certificate! I can even send it electronically so she’ll have it now, before the holiday is over!
So I go on Bruegger’s Bagels website, and I learn that they are having a special this month: if you buy a $25 gift certificate, you get $5 extra for free. In a flush of generosity, I buy two! So my girl will get $60 worth of bagels for the cool price of $50. What a thoughtful and resourceful mom I am!
I text my daughter:
And she texts me back:
I am confused: why would she wait to use them until she gets home? Wouldn’t bagels be just the thing this very week, right in the middle of finals??
Oh. Right. Bruegger’s doesn’t do business in Illinois. The bagel shop around the corner in Evanston is Einstein’s.
So I correct the error. I have now scored $50 worth of bagels for the cool price of $100. And they say that my people are savvy shoppers.
I am home for exactly 10 1/2 hours between my trips; but this gives me more than enough time to run to the supermarket for a box of Chanukah candles. It is Thursday morning when I get there, well into the holiday; and there are only two boxes left on the shelves. I almost buy them both, since my older daughter has asked me to pick up some candles for her (she, too, forgot before the holiday). But then I put one back, thinking I should leave the last one there for the poor sucker on the next flight.
Boxes of Chanukah candles typically come with 45, which is just enough to get you through the 8 days, plus one extra for breakage.
The way it works is that you light 1 candle the first night plus 1 shamash (or "helper candle"), and then 1 more on each successive night plus 1 helper candle, so that on the 1st night you need 2 and the 2nd night you need 3 and so on. That makes 44 for the entire holiday. I am starting on the 6th night, when I'll need 7; and then tomorrow will be the 7th night, so I'll need 8; followed by the 8th night, when I'll need 9; and 7 + 8 + 9 = 24. My daughter also wants enough candles to finish out the holiday, which would mean 24 for her, too, which would be 48, and I only have 45. But she will celebrate the 6th night, when you need 7, with us; which means she'll only need enough for the 7th night, when she'll need 8, and for the 8th night, when she'll need 9, which makes 17 in all; and if you add the 17 she needs to the 24 I need you get 41, which is less than 45, which is how many I have.
Which means we have enough candles for both of our households to get through the holiday.
And that, my friends, is the miracle of the lights.