I hear the question often. What is Hanukkah? Like any Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, the happy festival of lights, treats, and presents, can be summed up in 10 words or less--they tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat.
My quickie summary of Hanukkah also bares an eerie resemblance to my dating history--she tried to kill me, she failed, let's eat. For whatever the reason, that hammer on the metaphoric Glock pointing at my doomed relationships always comes down as blue and silver crap starts arriving in shop windows. I call this the Hanukkah Dumping Season.
The time line goes like this:
But the first time it happened was Hanukkah 1999, or 5760 on the Jewish calendar. Like this year, the holiday came early. Thanksgiving had just ended and I was scrambling for presents. I was easily distracted and couldn't figure out why there were so many Santa Clauses at the mall. I saw five--both stationary and free range.
I had sort of, almost, but not quite actually been seeing someone--Girl A. Our relationship had evolved into a frustrating sitcomlike will-they-or-won't-they? scenario. I knew something had to change, and Hanukkah was the moment.
No gift meant we're just friends. A moderate present could signal something else. Something expensive and well thought out meant a more meaningful relationship. But ours was a complicated situation. Our families had been friends since, well, basically forever. Our moms bonded in Lamaze class. I attended her bat mitzvah. She was at my bar mitzvah. To say we're dating would instantly pile a minivan's worth of baggage onto our relationship.
Instantly we'd be pressured to marry, have kids, and start driving Hebrew school carpools. Yet this hadn't stopped Girl A and I from surreptitiously seeing each other. That summer we spent a lot of time together. I lived in Baltimore, she in Washington, but we kept figuring out reasons to be in the other city. It was almost all platonic.
Then in November, a Capitol Hill staffer, the college roommate of a girl who was a friend of a friend of my co-worker, held a pre-Thanksgiving bash. My co-worker typically preferred weekending at the old Ottobar, the Brewer's Art, or Club Charles, but I was able to convince him to haul down I-95 to the party. I waited until we were on our way to mention to my co-worker that picking up Girl A in Northwest D.C. meant going totally across town from the party. He wasn't thrilled.
There were odd moments at the party, like feeling funny while peeing as a framed photo of the party host hugging Dan Quayle stared at me from its perch on the toilet tank. Mostly it was a good time. Girl A and I danced. The friend of the host said we made a cute couple. Just underneath our veneer of cute coupling, though, was that wall we'd erected. This is just platonic we told ourselves but it was tough. My co-worker said just watching us made him feel frustrated.
Somehow, being seen as a couple made me realize that Girl A and I would never be more than friends. I couldn't quite place the reason. Possibly it was because we'd known each other for so long--27 years by this point. Maybe it was our close family history. All I knew was I couldn't fathom the thought of trying to find her a present and joining her at family events.
Every family is different, but the way mine works, introducing a girlfriend to relatives during the High Holy Days is a no-go--way too much pressure and way too much religion. Passover is an easy one to sidestep by just saying her family has its own traditions, like she has relatives flying in, or she's jetting out. The same is true for Thanksgiving.
But at Hanukkah, that's eight days of holiday, each just as good as the other for a family supper. Good luck coming up with excuses covering all eight days of why the girl can't make it over for latkes. So weaving our way from Capitol Hill back up to Northwest, I knew this would be the last time I'd speak with Girl A for a while.
We wouldn't date. We had kissed one night, and that would have to be all. We'd keep in touch, safely distant thanks to e-mail, but we'd never again approach that threshold dividing friendship from deeper relationship again.
I wasn't happy, but I do remember, roaming through Towson Town Center, desperately trying to find something for my mom and sister in Crate and Barrel, that the Hanukkah Dumping Season has an upside. If you know something isn't going to work out, you might as well cut it off before throwing down serious coin on presents for someone who in a month's time is only going to rue the day she met you.
Considering my past, I can't help but wonder how this year, Hanukkah 5768, will work out. The blue and silver is already starting to complement the season's traditional red and green shopping coloring, and I'm nervous. But I think maybe if I put my mind to it, this is the year I'll survive the holiday season with my relationship intact. Hanukkah, after all, should offer hope--the word means dedication, referring to the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem, in 164 B.C.E., after it was sacked by a Syrian occupying force. And this year I've got new issues: Christmas with her family in South Carolina.
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