Three years ago, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (alternative spellings include Chanukah and Hanukah, because even we Jews can’t agree on how to transliterate the name of our festival of lights from Hebrew into English) … where was I? oh, right … in 2013 the American celebration of Thanksgiving coincided with the first night of Hanukkah. The convergent holidays were promptly dubbed “Thanksgivukah.” (OK, some people spelled it with two Ks.) That year some very thoughtful clients gave me a menurkey — a menorah shaped like a turkey with nine tail feathers poised to hold the candles. For those who don’t know, there are eight nights of Hanukkah, but nine candles. The extra candle is used to light all the others and is called the shamash, meaning “servant” or “helper.”
This year we have another convergence. The first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve. I already have the perfect menorah. It’s a looong, low ceramic dog that looks like a cross between a dachshund and a Dalmatian. He is white with black spots and short little legs. Eight wells to hold the candles run along his back from shoulders to tail base. For the shamash, his snout is adorned with a big red Rudolph nose. The wonderful pet owners who gave it to me many years ago said, “We couldn’t think of anyone who needed this more than you.”
Thank you, Ted, Deborah, Pam, and Paula, for my menorahs. They are well-loved and much appreciated. This year, in the name of mutual respect and appreciation between different religions and cultures, I am invoking the Chanukah spelling and naming the intersection of observances “Chanumas.” Happy Holidays to all those who celebrate anything at all this time of year, be it Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, Pancha Ganapati, Winter Solstice, or just having a few days off from work. Here’s a gift of poetry to you all.
’Twas the night before Chanumas
with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore
’Twas the night before Chanumas, all Island pets
Were snug in their houses, while down at the vet’s;
The IVs were hung by the cages with care
In case an emergency ended up there.
The black Labs were nestled in their L.L.Bean beds
While visions of marrowbones danced in their heads.
And I, the old vet, was closing the clinic
While humming a melody somewhat rabbinic.
Then out of the quiet, my cell phone did beep
A tone loud and urgent that made my heart leap.
What was the matter? A cat hit by car?
Or a dog that had eaten a huge chocolate bar?
On the screen of my cell phone, the message displayed
Would tell me how long I might be delayed.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But these words: Doctor Holiday soon will be here.
The moon on the fog over Yellow Brick Road
Could almost give one the impression it’d snowed.
Then down from Old County, Doc Holiday sped
Calling out to the dogs, which were pulling his sled.
“Now Katama! Now Chappy! Menemsha, and Tashmoo!
On Nobska! On Noepe! On Sachem, and Quansoo!
From East Chop to West Chop, Down-Island to Up!
Dash away! Dash away! Dash away, pup!”
And then, in a twinkling, I heard at the door
The sound of toenails a-scratching the floor.
As I went to the waiting room, and turned on the light
I saw Doctor Holiday. Oh, what a sight!
He was covered in cat hair, from his head to his toes
With Milk-Bones and catnip hanging out of his clothes.
He put down his little black bag, looking merry,
And every last bit of him, veterinary.
His eyes — they were tired! His nose — how it dripped!
His hands full of scars from the times he’d been nipped.
A shiny gold stethoscope bounced on his belly
And his shoes left a trail of something, well, smelly.
Then after a moment, he opened his bag
And all ’cross the Vineyard, tails started to wag.
“I’m prescribing your patients these magical pills
That will keep them all healthy, and ward off all ills.”
“No dogs will get bloat, or eat garbage or bones
And all of the kitties will stay close to home.
Puppies won’t play with electrical wire,
Or candles that might set their tails on fire.”
“Cats won’t eat tinsel or mistletoe berry
So you can relax. Have a Christmas that’s merry.
And if there is Chanukah gelt that’s left over
Remember that chocolate is not good for Rover.”
“And here is a bonus: This magic will last
Through Kwanzaa, and New Year’s, perhaps a bit past.
So attend every party, if you feel like going
And get into bed with the pleasure of knowing”
“That no one will call in the middle of night
To wake you and say that their pet isn’t right.
Now close up your office, go home and have dinner
I’ve still got a few stops to make in Aquinnah.”
He sprang to his sled, to his team gave a whistle
Then added, in Yiddish, “Ich vill schlofen a bissell.”
And true to his word, he fell sound asleep
As the dogs started off, and my iPhone beep-beeped.
I looked one more time at the text-message screen
Which this time was flashing bright words, red and green
It said, “All Vineyard pets are tucked in safe and tight,
Happy Holidays all, and to all a good night!”