2004 December Holiday Essay Contest

Winner - Glee Division

Cchhip, Cchhip Cchooray for Chanukah
By Amir Masliyah

To this day, I have never baked a dreidle out of clay.

Now that I have your attention, let’s really stir the pot of soy vey: Do I know the story of Chhannukah? Do you know the story of Chanukkahh? When it comes to Jewish cholidays, just know this: the Jews were under fire, we were up against the ropes, someone wanted us out of the picture, and somehow, through cunning and/or resourcefulness, us Jews pulled it off and survived to tell about it. Cchannukkah is no different—but in Chanukah we must remember that if it wasn’t for the latke, the Jews would never have had the cooourage to fight. By nibbling on innards of this potato brilliance, our hearts and souls were filled with amazing bravery, and the especially burnt ones acted as shields against Roman spears. Of course, if it wasn’t for the dreidle, what would we have put in our sling shots to keep away the advancing legion of Brutus? (Note how I didn’t refer to the ever-courageous latke as a “potato latke” nor do I call the consistently brilliant dreidle a “spinning dreidle”; that would be like saying “pig ham” or “bread bagel”, it just doesn’t make sense (or to Jews, cents))

And how about the proper spelling of Channnukah? It doesn’t even matter bros. Feel free to throw in some ‘ch’s’ here and there, toss in an ‘n’ or two, maybe even sprinkle an extra ‘k’ for effect. That’s the beautiful thing about Hannnukkkahc, there’s just no limit to the fun, and the only rule is that if you’re part of my family, you will receive a constant stream of shitty gifts for just over a week. Similar to stretching the NBA Finals out over a number of weeks, Hanukah’s potency is diluted by this whole eight day deal. A brief look into my fourth grade writing journal uncovered that in the Chanukkahhh of 1987 (the Jewish year 3987), my eight gifts consisted of new underwear (night one), new tube socks (night two), a Lee Fregosi 1987 Fleer card (three), a 1988 “Turtles of the World” calendar (four), two canisters of turtle food (five), the cassette tape soundtrack of the movie “Annie” (six), two packs of garbage pail kids and a pack of 87’ Donruss (seven), and two books on the final night (one from the Amelia Badelia episodes, and one from the Great Brain Series).

I would have gladly traded up in the draft by packaging the Annie tape, the Fregosi manager card and the calendar for a new baseball glove or maybe even a basketball, but I guess that was asking too much. I’m convinced to this day that because my parents were forced to spend so much money on my health in the form of pulmonary aid machines, medications, creams, lotions, humidifiers, inhalers, allergy shots, skin tests, doctor visits, and hospital stays, my gift basket was consequently lighter than it would have been otherwise.

I remember the year of Lee Fregosi because during this same Chanukah season, my oldest brother Elan ran away from home after getting into a nasty, yarmulke throwing affair with my parents. How can I forget him dipping his hands into the latke batter and slinging it against our kitchen window as he exited our molded and run-down abode? The latkes had definitely given him the cooourage to fight that day I can tell you. He had pre-packed a bag of essentials (water polo cap, rubber bands for his braces, two five-pound ankle weights) that he took with him, and after doing laps around the house a few times in a poorly feigned escape, my middle brother Ranon and I locked him out of the house to teach him a lesson. That Elan is one fiery Jew and I admire him for it.

The next day at school, Mrs. Gendlestein, mother of the not-so-bright-at-the-time Sarah Gendlestein, came to my classroom to teach everyone about Chanuuukah. She came in totally unprepared, and next thing I knew she was privately threatening me during recess to jot down the four Hebrew letters found on a dreidle. If I didn’t know them, she threatened to “call my god-damn immigrant father” to find out. I was able to remember the four letters after all, but for the good of our people, I could not remember what each letter signified during the dreidle game. I knew one of them meant that you won the whole pot (gimmel), another meant that you lost the whole pot (noon), but which one meant that you lose half and which one meant that you win half? It was a toss up, and all I knew was that these Jews liked to gamble. So when I finally told the wicked Grendle that I didn’t remember which was which, she took me by the elbow and got all up in my face. Her dagger-nose was frightening. “You better figure it out quick,” she scolded, her breath smelling of Hanukah gelt. I didn’t like being backed into a corner, and I came back with everything I had. “Maybe if your daughter wasn’t such a dimwit she could help out around here. Does she have dyslexia or something? Cuz’ I’ll tell you what lady, she’s dumber than a pile of Chaaanukaaah candles.” I was somewhat proud of my response, and it shut her up nice and right. About ten years later Mrs. Gendlestein ran off with her aerobics instructor, I just thought you should know.

I figured I’d make this short Chanukhah tale similar to the holiday itself—you’re not sure when exactly it starts or ends, there’s no real substance, and when it’s over you’re not all that much better off. Nonetheless, I just want to end with big-ups to the Menorah, if it wasn’t for this candelabra o’ joy, where would Hanukkkah be? Praise be to you, senor Festival of Lights!

Winner - Hate Division

I Hate You, Carol LeBeau! You Ruined Christmas!
by Xan Bernay

I hate Carol LeBeau. She likes to ruin Christmas.

Can’t you tell by her beady eyes and scarily white teeth that she’s the type of person who knows how to ruin a perfectly nice holiday meal? I bet you’re thinking to yourself, “how could Carol, San Diego’s 10 News anchor woman, a woman who, according to her web site ,“makes time to support numerous organizations: YMCA, Vista Hill Foundation, and San Diego Rescue Mission” ruin Christmas?” Fine. Here’s how Carol, who believes “Staying Healthy is more than a news assignment” ruined my Christmas Eve.

My family is not a traditional one who gathers by the hearth of dear old grandma or whatever normal people do on holidays. Instead, we like to go out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve; a tradition started many years ago when there was only one restaurant open that night in my tiny college town in the redwoods. Now for me Christmas is synonymous with mu-shu pork, eggrolls and other delectables. When I moved to San Diego I sought out a Chinese restaurant that would be open Christmas Eve. And, oh, Szechwan Mandarin how sweet you were.!

We gathered at the restaurant the first Christmas Eve and were ushered to the back room. We had high hopes for an evening of wonders, delights and chow mein. I looked to the booth next to us, and there she was - - Carol. At first we were somewhat excited to see an incredibly minor celebrity. Then .things gradually changed. Her hyena-like laugh rang through the restaurant, breaking the fine china tea cups and hurting children’s feelings. The meal was extremely uncomfortable to say the least. But eventually Carol and her minions left. Our sense of calm was restored and Christmas in all its glory of noodles and Santa was once again ours.

A year went by and other than avoiding 10News my life was pretty much the same. Then came Christmas Eve. We arrived at the restaurant and the coast was clear. The scourge of Christmas was no more. When, to our horror, the she-beast walked in and was once again seated in our midst. You can imagine the pain as we tried to eat our cashew chicken, all the while huddled against the onslaught of the evil braying laugh. We left our fortune cookies where they lay and escaped into the night.

On the third year we all laughed and said, “I can’t happen again, right?” But oh what innocents we were. We sat down and thought we were safe. I said in a rather loud voice “She’s not here!” But my friend Rebecca turned a bright shade of red and whispered, “She’s right next to you.” And sure enough, separated by a gauzy rice paper screen was my nemesis. We got the food to go and ate in the car. And now the holidays are upon us again. I can’t chance it. Should I give up the won tons on the chance that I may be once again thrown into proximity with the beast? Christmas is ruined.

Winner: Discord Division

Holiday Trumpery
by Brad Lewis

Mediocre at best, this is how those who know him best describe him. This is also an apt description of Tim, my middle brother’s Christmas and “Special Day” gift giving skills. Wrapping paper? Who needs it? Ribbons, bows, and cards? Why bother, it’s all going in the trash anyhow. This is his attitude, which begs the question: Is he a stout-minded Conservationist intent upon curtailing unneccessary deforestation, or is he just a lazy, uncaring bastard? I think his choice in the presents he gives might shed some light on the truth behind his endowmentary mediocrity.

One Christmas when in high school I received a black Duke Blue Devils beanie from Tim. Am I a huge fan of this storied basketball program? Undoubtedly. Where the gifting went awry was not in the item itself so much as the timeliness of its purchase. I had days earlier purchased a smart blue Fila beanie, been given a black Adidas woolen cap for my birthday 4 months prior, and received a Georgia Tech skully earlier that same Christmas morning. Now, all of this might have made sense had we lived in Anchorage or the Arctic Circle. We however grew up in a Northern Californian town known much more for its fog banks than its snow flurries.

Tim must have been ignorant of the reality that no human living in such a climate would need so many snow hats, or at the very least he was unaware that I already had so many branded bonnets. His 1400 on the SAT and the fact that he was present and accounted for when I got the other hats let me know that he simply didn’t give a crap. Other reasons I was aware of the level of his indifference include the following: he went to buy the hat on Christmas Day ... at noon ... and presented the gift “wrapped” in the Champs Sports plastic bag fresh with the $8.99 price tag as he and his understandably indifferent Jewish cohort, Ranon, exited Tim’s baby blue ’79 VW Rabbit upon their triumphant, Kringlesque return from the Del Monte Shopping Center.

Admittedly, I take great pride in choosing and buying presents for loved ones, often purchasing the offering months in advance, always wrapping the token with care like Mr. Claus and his elves taught me so many years ago. So let me get this straight hermano, not only am I paying triple the cost of your gift to me in order to buy you several carefully selected holiday items, but you purchase my gift on Christmas day, hand it to me in the bag from the store where it was bought (receipt still in bag), and present it in our driveway, in front of your friend as if to say, “Ranon, check out how little I care about my dumbass little brother.” Although himself formerly small in stature, I can promise you my brother failed to heed Dickens’ message of Christmas cheer offered by Tiny Tim.