December is a fun month. Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev, and while that Hebrew date occasionally arrives in late November, it most often appears in December, just as it has this year. This is a favorite holiday for both children and adults. The little ones are thrilled to get Chanukah presents, and the adults are delighted to be able to provide them. In addition to family Chanukah parties, everyone loves to light the menorah. If possible, we do that in a front window so that passersby can see the beautiful glow.
The delicious smell of latkes is in the air. These are served with applesauce or sour cream, and, inevitably, there is some conversation about which of these two best complements the latke. And that’s not all. We also make sure to have sufganiyot. While we call them jelly doughnuts the rest of the year, at Chanukah time they are referred to as sufganiyot. These two treats are always in evidence at a Chanukah meal. Neither of these is shown on any healthy food pyramid that I ever saw, nor are they considered part of the four basic food groups we learned about. But we tell ourselves, as we tell anyone else who cares to listen, that on Chanukah, latkes and sufganiyot are allowed, as oil is the essential ingredient in both, and, after all, this is a celebration of oil — the small amount that lasted for eight days.
As it happens, December is a favorite month of mine for an entirely different reason. It is on the 25th of December that non-Jews celebrate the holiday of Xmas. It is the same date every year, and I am sincerely happy for my Christian friends to whom the holiday means so much. But for an entirely different reason, I am also happy for myself. This is because it is my opportunity to let my sanitation men know that they are no longer on my gift list. For years, I have been kvetching about these guys, and this is my chance to do more than just kvetch. It is clear to me that my sanitation men don’t think in terms of Chanukah gelt, and that gifts mean nothing to them. But they do know about cold, hard cash.
There was once a time when most, if not all, of the sanitation workers replaced the lids on the garbage pails and made certain they were on tightly. No longer! Over the years it changed, and lids were left off. So now, when it rains or snows, water accumulates inside the cans and if I don’t happen to catch it in time I am forced to empty out the water. This is not as simple as it sounds. The cans are large, and tipping them over is not easy to do. Inevitably, as I attempt it, my shoes get soaked and sometimes, as an added bonus, some of the dirty water also manages to splatter onto my legs.
Back in the day, when this didn’t happen because the lids were replaced, I would reward the men at their holiday time. In mid-December, I would prepare envelopes of cash. Depending on how magnanimous I was feeling at the time, I inserted in each envelope either $20 or $25. Just before the 25th of the month approached, I would listen for the sound of the garbage truck. These trucks have a sound all their own so it wasn’t hard to know when they were coming down the street. As soon as I heard them, I would grab the envelopes and head for my front door, where I stood and waited for the men to come close. When they saw me, I would shout and wave the envelopes in the air, a clear indication that there was something inside for them. With big grins on their faces they would come over to me, and each man would graciously accept an envelope.
Unfortunately, those days are long gone. All year long, the only thing I can do is complain about the shoddy service the men provide, but in December I get to show who is boss. It’s not a particularly nice trait on my part, nor am I proud of it, but that is just the way it is.
Happy Chanukah to one and all!
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.