One thing that is familiar to me though is the putting together of the assembly required toys. I can still remember the sound of my father saying his Irish prayers one floor down on Christmas Eve. Irish prayers (by the way) are very short, usually no more than two or three words long, and involve little more than the gusty invocation of the lord's name. My Dad was very devout in his own way.
"For ... - ... sake!" I'd hear him shout with the occasional, "Holy ... - ...!"
These prayers were, I suppose, his way of asking for help in understanding the instructions; or for seeking a way to make a misaligned drill hole mate up with an immovable wooden dowel; or maybe just to see if he could provoke an answer from the ceiling or the sky above it.
Christmas and Chanukah it turns out both require assembly.
"Oh my ... - ...!" was what I was thinking yesterday when I opened a new wooden play kitchen kit for my daughter, "There must be 200 pieces to this thing."
It was no exaggeration. In fact, counting the screws and the bolts and the dowels and the prongs, there may have been 300 pieces or more. The instruction set had 35 steps with multiple assembly steps in each. It was, in my experience, the most elaborate thing I've put together since I installed a snow plow on my truck 20 years ago.
"Daddy, here's a piece for you," my daughter said every time she came in the room to see how far along I was with the wonderful gift that her grandmother had given her (it really is wonderful - now that it's assembled).
"No sweetie ... no sweetie ... please sweetie ... no ... no ... please go and ask Mommy for a cookie okay?" She was just too excited to stay away for long.
The project went together slowly. Each look up at the clock made me more and more thankful that I did not work on an assembly line for a living. The work was tiring and required me to bend and push and twist and force in ways that just made my back and neck ache. In the end I felt like becoming a union organizer for the elves.
"Yeah Daddy," my little one said with delight, "I'll be your friend every day now."
"Thanks sweetie," I said wearily and stalked downstairs for a belated cup of coffee and a cookie. I could hear the sounds of her make believe pots and pans as she put her new kitchen kit through it's paces.
"How'd it go," my wife asked, looking at my sloped shoulders and bleared eyes as I walked into our real kitchen.
I grunted in response and settled into the chair to munch and sip on my snack. I thought about my Dad all those years ago on that different holiday and about my time now. I thought about all the gifts that I woke up to find fully assembled and ready for fun and I didn't feel so much a stranger to this new holiday.
It's not the labor I was thinking of, or the commercial aspects of the holidays; I was thinking of just the experience of being a Dad around young kids when they're excited and your tired. I was thinking of the weary belated joy that comes from the boundless energy that kids seem to have for holidays and the very bounded sense of energy of an adult. I was thinking about doing something aggravating and wearisome because of the joy it gives to my kid.
I thought of those feelings and they made me smile despite how tired I was.
"A miracle happened," I said to my wife, trying out my new grasp of Chanukah humor.
"Ha, Ha," she smiled, "Your a good Dad sweetheart."
Thank you nice wife. Happy Chanukah.