December 30, 2016
EACH FAMILY has its own patterns for the holidays.
For instance, my kids know exactly how we will sing Had Gadya and those other final songs at the end of the Passover Seder.
They know with whom we are going to do a barbecue on Independence Day, and they know exactly what decorations will appear in our small balcony succa on Succot.
Predictability is one of the comforting elements about holidays: knowing that regardless of what is going on in the world, and despite what may be going on in one’s personal life, the holidays will be celebrated the same way in the home as they always have been.
Predictability is anchoring; reliability is reassuring.
That, of course, is great if you like the way the holidays are celebrated in your home.
If you don’t, well, at least knowing what’s in store can make coping with it a bit easier. For example, if you can’t stand Cousin Joey, but he comes over in his obnoxious splendor each Purim, at least you know what to expect, and perhaps can brace yourself better to cope with his antics.
Hanukka, too, has its own pattern. How the family lights the hanukkia; where the hanukkia is lit; who lights; who cleans up the spilled oil and melted wax; on which night presents are given; how many stanzas of Ma’oz Tzur are sung; whom do you invite over to celebrate.
Each family has its own distinct holiday routine, and in our home it is the same drill we have been running since we first had children. Even when there are no kids at home on any particular night of Hanukka, The Wife and I go through our same holiday routine as always – light the candles in the same place, sing the songs in the same way, make the same predictable comments – wistfully thinking back to how it used to be when the kids were small, cuddly and all living at home.
EXCEPT THIS YEAR. This year – with our son Skippy engaged – familiar patterns are already bending.
Every year for the last two decades we have invited a good friend and his family over on one of the nights of Hanukka for pumpkin soup, latkes and sour cream.
As sure as the hanukkia is going to be lit, and a jelly doughnut is going to be eaten, “Uncle” Elli is coming over for Hanukka.
This year, however, sucked into the excitement of Skippy’s engagement, The Wife decided she wanted to shake things up a bit. Sure, we would have Uncle Elli, but she thought it would also be a good to have my son’s future in-laws as well. Since they live 90 minutes to the north, Hanukka – one of those few holidays when driving is permitted – would be a perfect time for them to come on down and bond.
But that opened up a brand-new set of issues, forcing me to come to grips with a reality I’ve been avoiding: the son’s future in-laws, known in Yiddish as the machatunim.
FOR YEARS I have heard much about other people’s machatunim, and most of it negative. Friends with good machatunim don’t generally speak about them, because – like so much else – when things run smoothly, there is little to report. But unlucky friends with difficult machatunim? Well, they have what to talk about, and that is generally all that I’ve heard over the years.
As a result, the concept in my mind was scary. The reality, at least in our immediate case, is – thankfully – much less so.
We had met the son’s future in-laws twice and got along swimmingly. They seem like wonderful people: easy to get along with, their concepts of the wedding similar to ours and – like us – they want what is best for their child.
But still, I asked The Wife, do we already have to invite them over for Hanukka? Don’t we have to think about this a bit? How close will we be? How close should we be? How close do we want to be? How close do they want to be to us? What obligations do we now have toward them?
And what about Elli? What about our obligations to him? After 20 years of breaking latkes together, now he has to play second fiddle to a couple we’ve only met twice?
These are big issues that I need time to absorb and digest.
Jumping in so soon seemed a bit much.
But not for The Wife. No, she wanted to dive right in.
“It’ll be nice to get together away from the pressure of the wedding,” she said. “Just to get to know them. You always wanted family here, now we have family. Rejoice.”
Noble sentiments, indeed – but not everyone shares them.
I, for sure, do not. Uncle Elli was hoping that they wouldn’t come on his night. And the machatunim themselves apparently were having similar deliberations in their home. For after first maintaining they would love to join us, they later deferred, saying we would meet soon at the wedding hall for a pre-wedding “tasting” of the food to be served.
That was an eye-opener. For as anxious as we are about our future grandkids’ future grandparents, they – obviously – are anxious about us. They, too, have heard machatunim horror stories. They, too, have their anxieties about the family their child is marrying into.
Or, to paraphrase Pogo: “We have met the machatunim, and they are us.”