Andrew Phillips reflects on what Chanukah means to him…
When I was 10, I certainly didn’t fast on Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah and Pesach were a blur of family, synagogue and long dinners.
But Chanukah meant one thing – and that was gifts. And then I grew up.
This is always a sad time for men who, after having received a deluge of presents for their barmitzvahs, are suddenly facing a lifetime of festive socks, Chanukah hankies and a lot of cheap gadgets.
For some reason, men are considered too difficult to buy for and, although I don’t want to stomp my feet about this, I do think it would be nice if a little thought went into buying for the male species.
With nothing of consequence to unwrap over the eight days, I shall console myself with memories of the Chanukah of my childhood. Magical times they were, but not always for the reasons you might expect.
I remember the truly religious moment when I ripped open the wrapping paper to reveal my first replica Chelsea kit. I dream of feeling that way again.
Lighting the Chanukiah was fun, too, as ours was something of a fire hazard. It was not just a candelabra, but a music box that played the Maoz Tzur tune. To play the song, you had to lift the base, which with all the candles lit and wobbling away always provided a slightly scary moment to the proceedings. However, the arrival of the fire brigade had nothing to do with the Chanukiah.
It was because my mother had decided to have a go at making doughnuts. The chip pan had been turned on, but she was so distracted by the Chanukah frenzy of her three children that she completely forgot about it and the oil burst into flames.
My father intervened heroically, but his attempt to move the blazing pan into the garden caused him to spill hot oil over his arm and entailed a trip to A&E. So, for us, the festival of lights was all too literally realised and the miracle of Chanukah was that the entire house didn’t burn down. These days, Chanukah is a slightly less dramatic experience.
Indeed, I’m not sure that my own two children experience the same heart-stopping excitement that I once did. My 12-year-old daughter started texting me links on Amazon to all the gifts she wanted at the beginning of September, while my nine-year old son started face-to-face negotiations at about the same time.
The Chanukah meal remains what it was when I was a child – a feast of salt beef, latkes and doughnuts, which still manages to put everyone on a cholesterol high. And then there is the present-giving itself, which is significant in my family mainly because it is one of the few times of the year that my daughter will look away from her phone.
This year I am making doughnuts, the wobbly Chanukiah with the music box is still in use and the children are inclined to hide under the table when I attempt to wind it up.
But with 30 years of experience behind me, I have every reason to hope the house will still be standing come the end of the festival and I emerge in my new socks, waving a Chanukah hankie and a battery-operated desk fan.