The next morning, my husband and children insisted I "sleep in" (which actually means take the opportunity to stay in bed a few extra minutes and enjoy reading and relaxing). They scurried downstairs to make what I thought was a pancake breakfast. There were pancakes indeed, but there was also hash browns, bagels, lox, fresh orange juice, and sumptuous dessert. Aside for the appetizing food, the best surprise of all was that my parents had come to participate in this special birthday breakfast.
Our breakfast, turned brunch, extended well passed lunch. We ate together, played draidels, sang songs, my children preformed guitar and dance recitals, and I was showered with hugs, kisses, and gifts. Each child prepared a special handmade card, a couple of exquisite drawings, and a personally selected gift. They recognize the value of giving a meaningful and individual gift, so they went through their belongings and picked items that they thought I would enjoy. No one asked them to, they did this on their own, wrapped them, and placed them weeks in advance on my bedside dresser (talk about suspense).
My oldest daughter gave me a mini zip-up wallet ; I guess she noticed that I am always misplacing my bus pass and credit card. She also told me that it has a pouch to put change, and that she has heard me comment that my current wallet (which is actually just a tiny business card holder) doesn't have a spot for cash (who carries cash anymore anyway?). She said that I often remark it's a shame I don't have space for money in my wallet because I would love to have cash easily accessible to give to people who ask for charity. She is correct, I plan to the bank and take out some cash so we can make regular donations when people ask us. My oldest son gave me a cuddly koala keychain (from my pre-children adventures in Australia) because I often misplace my keys (along with my bus pass and credit card).
Everyone had a good laugh at the thoughtful (and practical) nature of their gifts. We had only two hours to unwind (and clean up from both surprises) before we went to a special Iron Chef program. This was held at the Centre for Judaism, the community that I grew up in, having known the Rabbi and Rebbetzin for well over two decades. I saw many of my surrogate Bubbies and Zaidies, who have known me since I was 6 years old. They all wished me a happy birthday, and the Rabbi gave a special l'chaim in my honour. We then put on our aprons and got to work to create a three course meal in under an hour.
It has been a very busy (and stressful) fall and winter, so had my children not put the birthday gifts by my bedside, and had my birthday not coincided with Chanukah, and had my husband not planned these special surprises, I could have forgotten it. It was one of those birthdays that could have easily slipped by without realizing that I was a year older.
Growing up, I had always wished that I was born just a month earlier or later. My birthday parties were often cancelled because of inclement weather (snow or icy road conditions). Or there was a poor turnout because friends were inflicted with colds or the flu or they were on a winter vacation. In terms of gifts, I often felt that I got the short end of the stick and that my "super" birthday-Chanukah gifts were actually a glorified two-for-one special (no offense Mama and Papa, I was and still continue to be extremely appreciative, I'm only joking... sort of...).
As I have grown older, I have come to appreciate being born on the first night of Chanukah (in fact, I have come to appreciate many things which I was previously ungrateful for as a child). On Chanukah, there is a built in reason to get together to celebrate with family and friend. Putting together a birthday party often gets side swiped by other more pressing matters (such as laundry, dishes, or bedtime routines), whereas Chanukah never passes by without a party, a donut, and a latke (or two).
This Chanukah, be sure to get together with some friends, family, neighbours, or colleagues; pull out your menorah, candles, and draidel; and make (or buy) some donuts and latkes. Life will go on being busy whether or not we take the time to celebrate, so don't turn down the party because you're tired, don't ignore an invitation from a friend because it's cold out. Or better yet, invite some friends to your home and celebrate the holiday of light together.