As Jewish holidays follow the Hebrew Calendar (as opposed to the more well-known Gregorian/Western/Christian Calendar), they do not occur on the same day/week/month every year. Chanukah is an eight day celebration that begins at sunset on the 25th day of Kislev. This year, that happened to be December 1st.
What this meant was that our very first Chanukah would be celebrated without proximity to Christmas. Or rather, Christmas would occur without proximity to Chanukah. There could be no Christmas tree disguised as a Chanukah bush. No tacky Christmas bulbs masquerading as a Jewish Festival of Lights. Chanukah would be Chanukah, and Christmas would be Christmas. I would have to enjoy Chanukah on its own merits.
And, you know what? I think I did.
When a Foreign Service family prepares to leave for post, they have two packing options. One is your UAB (unaccompanied air baggage), which should be at your new home within a few days of your arrival. The other is your HHE (Household Effects), which takes a couple of months longer to arrive. You can put whatever you want in either shipment, but you should choose carefully, as there are weight limits.
When we left Virginia, I put our Shabbat candlestick holders in my carry-on bag, but put the menorah in with our UAB. Since we were arriving in Guadalajara on November 8th, we both assumed that our UAB would find us long before December 1st. In the meantime we would be able to continue our Friday night tradition of having Shabbat dinner.
What we didn't account for was that our UAB would not be released to us until we moved into our permanent home. For those of you that have been following this blog, you know that we were placed in two temporary homes before making our final move. We made that final move on Friday, December 10th (photos coming soon). Two days after the conclusion of Chanukah.
Fortunately, we had managed to pick up an electronic menorah while in Houston. It was intended to be a decorative piece for our window, but ended up being the centerpiece for our Chanukah dinners.
On the first night of Chanukah, I prepared a large spread of Jewish foods. No small undertaking, as 1) I had never prepared a Jewish meal, and 2) some of the ingredients are hard to come by in Mexico. Nevertheless, I prepared a grand meal of Raisin Challah, Chili-Lime Baked Chicken, Latkes, and Kugel.
The first night of Chanukah was also the night that we found out that one of our dogs was missing. Only, she wasn't. So there was the first night, full of great food and even greater stress.
The second night of Chanukah brought with it the arrival of our pets. So there was the second night, full of great leftovers and urine-soaked, traumatized animals.
The third night of Chanukah saw Chloe, our golden retriever, knocking the menorah off of the table, shattering one bulb and causing another to light only sporadically. So there was the third night, full of ok leftovers and worries about our ability to complete nights seven and eight.
The fourth night of Chanukah was celebrated following an afternoon Posada hosted by the US Consulate (at which I won a bottle of tequila during a post-lunch raffle...woo!). So there was the fourth night, full of so-so leftovers and a popular Mexican Catholic Christmas tradition.
All the while, we searched in vain for compatible bulbs.
And so it went, until the seventh night, where our fears were confirmed and the seventh bulb would not light.
On the eight night, we weren't even home to pretend that the final, empty slot would illuminate, because we were at the orphanage assisting with their Christmas party.
On December 10th, our UAB arrived with the beautiful menorah we had purchased a month prior at Crate & Barrel. It matches our Shabbat candlestick holders perfectly. Next Chanukah will be beautiful.
The irony of Chanukah slapped me in the face two days later. While sorting through our belongings, I found the box that had once contained our electric menorah. As I was about to throw it in the trash, I located two spare bulbs hidden behind a folded piece of cardboard. The menorah packaging had made no mention of extra bulbs. Had I found this hidden treasure just a few days earlier, we would have experienced a true Chanukah miracle.
But, you know what? This Chanukah season brought with it a new life in a foreign country, my first attempt at Jewish cooking, the safe arrival of our pets, and a treasured night bringing joy to children in need
I think that's pretty miraculous, after all.