It was a night to remember.
Our best friends (Christian) invited us (Jewish) to spend Christmas Eve with them. In a first for us, we showed up at the church for Christmas Eve Mass. The girls were dressed in their finest clothes, faces scrubbed and hair combed. Our car was packed with fresh, hot latkes to eat later during our Christmas Eve/5th Night of Chanukah Dinner.
Our friends were scheduled to be the greeters at their church on this special night, so they and we arrived early. Early enough that our combined children had a few minutes to race around in the church gym, bouncing basketballs and playing air hockey while wearing their fancy clothes. Even baby C, clad in a velvet dress, toddled after a basketball as big as she was.
Soon enough it was time to compose ourselves and line up to greet the churchgoers. K firmly planted herself between friends, offering a cheery, “Merry Christmas!” to each guest. She followed her friends’ lead and heartily shook hands with each congregant and greeted people as old friends, even though she had never met them before.
During the church service, Pastor Brown invited the children to gather in the first few pews while she held a special discussion with them about Christmas. She asked the children questions about the birth of Jesus, and to our surprise, K raised her hand to answer a question about why Jesus was born in a manger. “Wait til I tell the Pastor that a Jewish child was answering her questions,” L whispered to me with a big smile.
Pastor Brown gave each child a glow stick so that they could hold the light of Jesus close to them during the rest of the service. AR clutched her glow stick and told me fervently, “I LOVE the Baby Jesus.”
C had to leave the sanctuary while Steve was playing his solo of Silent Night on the bells because she was not so silent.
After the service, everyone was so kind and welcoming to us, and the Pastor told us, “Happy Chanukah!” It felt festive and loving.
We drove back to the house of our friends, where the aroma of homemade chicken soup awaited. In a flurry of excitement, the children opened their presents. S and L bought seven pairs of matching pajamas for our combined seven children, and we brought toys.
And then it was time for the lighting of the candles, both Advent and Menorah.
We lit the Menorah first, singing songs in Hebrew. AR, who was singularly focused on earning her dessert, crammed spoonful after spoonful of soup into her mouth, even as we sang the Chanukah prayers.
Then our friends lit the Advent candles. As they were about to sing the Advent song, AR began choking on a mouthful of soup. Her face turned red and she gagged. “Andrew, she’s choking,” I exclaimed. Andrew leaned across the table toward AR, as S also reached for her.
AR progressed from choking to puking. You know your friend S is a mensch when he reaches to catch your daughter’s puke so it won’t spoil her party dress. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something strange.
Andrew was on fire.
“Oh my God, Andrew’s shirt is on fire!” He had been so focused on AR while she was choking that he didn’t realize he was leaning into the Advent candles. His shirt had flames on the sleeve. I grabbed some napkins from the table and smothered the fire.
“Did I eat enough soup before I barfed to get dessert?” AR asked.
“Is Daddy still on fire?” K asked.
And this is how the Jews do Christmas.
L pulled a leaf off her aloe plant, and we put it on Andrew’s arm, which was starting to sting. Fortunately, his shirt and undershirt absorbed almost all of the fire. He removed the burned shirt and borrowed a new shirt from S. He reassured K and AR that he was okay.
(The girls are a little traumatized and have continued to ask him repeatedly if he is on fire and if he is okay this morning, and he continues to confirm that he is okay).
We resumed eating the delicious dinner of soup and latkes with applesauce and sour cream. “Oh, the bread is still in the oven,” I remembered. Holding C in my arms, I walked over to the counter. Andrew opened the oven and pulled out the pan with the bread.
Suddenly C began to scream. Andrew had accidentally backed up with the hot pan into the base of C’s neck and it was burning her. She sobbed and clung to me as L grabbed another aloe leaf and paper towels filled with ice. I held it to the burn and kissed her repeatedly, and soon she comforted.
(This morning, the seared mark on the back of C’s neck looks worse than Andrew’s arm).
Again, everyone calmed down. We ate our dinner.
“Can I have dessert?” AR asked.
“Daddy, are you still on fire?” K asked.
The children played. L’s brother and his wife were supposed to be there too, but they called to say they would be late leaving L’s parents’ because their puppy had eaten a pair of underwear and they were inducing vomiting.
“Better for the dog to vomit at their house than ours!” S said cheerfully.
AR stood on a chair and watched as L made the chocolate fondue. L slipped her a few chocolate chips as she salivated in excitement.
Before letting the kids dive into the fondue, we took photos of the five big kids and the two babies sitting at the table. In their matching pajamas, they were beyond adorable.
Dessert was served, and AR gorged herself on chocolate. L’s brother, his wife, and the dog arrived, bringing Christmas cheer and excitement with them.
And despite a choking and puking girl, a dad who caught on fire, a baby who got burned, and an underwear-eating dog, everyone was happy and dancing around the beautiful Christmas tree.
We had a terrific time spending Christmas Eve with the friends we love so very much, who have seen us through thick and thin, tragedy and joy. We have celebrated births with them and mourned losses with them; we prayed alongside them two years ago when their young son became desperately ill and was restored to health; they traveled with us to meet K's birth family, and now we have added this momentous night to our list of memories.
Our Christmas miracle was that we are all okay, smiling, laughing and full of love for the people in our lives. God bless us, every one.