Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy (earlier than usual) Chanukah!

Happy Chanukah!  Or Hannukah, or Hanukkah.  For my part:  "Chanukah".   Traditionally (at least here in America), celebrants receive one gift each night of the festival;  in our family, they increased in some way each night. until the  eighth night, when they got a "real" present.  The earlier ones might qualify as "stocking stuffers" and I might be wrong (you'd have to ask them) but I think they enjoyed it that way.

The first night was always a new Dreidl and a bag of chocolate coins.  We would then play wild games of cutthroat Dreidl, usually using dried beans for counters while enjoying the traditional potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce.  I tried to make one night's gift about food:  a pint of ice cream with a jar of topping, nuts, maraschino cherries -- and permission to eat it all at once if they wanted to.  As I recall, the seventh night was always a book.  Today every grandchild gets a book for each occasion too.  (And they'll continue to - I don't do e-books or that kinda #$@)*.

So here's my plan:  each day of Chanukah, I'm going to describe a gift I have.  And my intention is to save the best for last.  Now, these are presents I already have, and enjoy, and I'm going to enjoy describing them a LOT.  You know how, when you're a kid and a new friend from school comes over and you get to show 'em all the cool stuff in your room? Yeah, it's like that.  So here goes:

First day of Chanukah:  KNITTING.  I have the gift of knitting.  I learned to knit from my mother, years and years ago.   I don't remember the teaching; I do remember a stunning dress with a matching sweater she knitted  for herself out of ivory-colored yarn shot through with gold.  She bought gold-and pearled braid for the sweater (it was a cardigan) and she bought a gold belt to wear with it, and it - and she - was exquisite! 

I knitted periodically - until a few years ago, when it All Came Back.  For the last few years it's increased from "Gee, this is fun" to "I am TOTALLY addicted, a perpetual knitter, and...wait!  Was that a yarn shop?"  I now have a S.A.B.L.E. stash.  (That's "Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy", otherwise known as "if I never bought another THAT's going to happen...I couldn't knit it all up before I die").

I am what is known as a PROCESS KNITTER.  I knit perpetually unless I'm writing fiction or blogging or ...OK, you got me...on Farmville or Frontierville or some other Facebook timesuck.  BUT!  other than that I knit all the time.  I knit riding in the car (not if I am driving, but when I perfect that, all bets are off);  I knit in meetings, while reading, at movies.  I knit while visiting.  I knit while watching the teevee or listening to the radio. 

Believe it or not - one time I was sitting on the couch watching teevee and knitting plain ol' stockinette, in the round (see "toque", below) and I dozed off...and woke up a few stitches further along, and they were FINE!!  I knit voyageurs' toques (see below, as I said above), shawls, scarves, socks, mittens, fingerless nitts, caps.  I knit cool little felted bowls.  And as a process knitter, when I finish a project and it REALLY IS SOMETHING! I'm delighted.  Because I b'lieve I'd knit even if it didn't become something.  I always have a lovely cotton dishrag on needles set aside for if I have nothing else available.

Now then, TOQUES.  Toques (a French-Canadian name, not used in France) are the knitted caps, usually red, seen in all the depictions of voyageurs and fur traders in the 18th century.  This is how they start, on three DPNs.  There are increases - and then just plain old knitting knitting knitting knitting, to the point where you decrease.  Now - there was a sailing ship that sank in icy Canadian waters in the mid-18th century, and almost everything on it was preserved.  It was carefully raised and the stuff was recorded, photographed, documented and published in a book.  (My good luck!)   Among the things found was a genuine, certified voyageurs' toque, incomplete but enough that I can point to it as provenance for the historic accuracy of the toques I knit.  I make them for a few reasons:  1)  they're easy;  2)  they're fun for me;  3)  they're popular among living history reenactors;  4)  they're easy;  5)  they're fun for me....wait, I'm repeating myself.  Lastly, but no kind of leastly:  oftentimes I get paid for 'em.  And when I DO knit them on request by voyageurs or traders, I send them with a "wool care" sheet; a monograph about the historical use of toques;  a sheet about Ste Anne, patroness and protector of the French-Canadian voyageurs -- and I pin to it a Ste Anne's medallion (with an 18th century-style straight pin).

So on this first day of Chanukah I enjoy my gift of knitting - which has brought with it also a Community, a group of dear friends, on Ravelry and at my LYS;  I am a member of a MOVEMENT of modern knitters;  I am one of a long line of women (imagine us all holding hands) that stretches back to some girl on the shore of the Nile putting together fishing nets - and the Virgin Mary who was painted knitting a little baby shirt on double-point needles.  (She was a Jewish mother, of course she'd knit him a sensible little sweater!)

As it is now sundown, I am going to light TWO candles on my menorah.  DISCLAIMER:  I have a shiny silver menorah with lovely flame-shaped blue-and-white bulbs. Yep, it's electric.  For the cats, you know.  (My sons asks what's the Hebrew way to say "Blessed art Thou, oh Lord our God, King of the Universe, who commands us to plug in the Chanukah lights".  I have no idea....but I figure He made cats so He knows all about it and sympathizes.   Tomorrow?   Second day of Chanukah.


CTJen said...

Happy Hanukkah! Even though we aren't Jewish, we enjoyed our delicious latkes this evening, and prayed for the small amount of oil I had to be enough to fry up the 8 potatoes I had shredded.

CTJen said...

(It was!)

dale-harriet said...

See there, Jen? It IS a miracle! Actually, one cool thing: our dreidls here have the initials of "A Great Miracle Happened THERE"...whereas Israeli dreidls have one letter different: "A Great Miracle Happened HERE"! (Your trivia fact for the day.)

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post! The gift of knitting really is a gift. It smooths the bumps and relaxes the mind and allows us to be productive whilst enjoying ourselves. I too knit everywhere, but I still cannot knit and read nor knit in movies. My hat is off to you!

tracirabin said...

Happy Chanukah! (I like this spelling too!)

I love your story. I think this is a great tradition. I wish my family had done this while I was growing up. Maybe I'd be into the religion more. Oh well.

feefifoto said...

I've been trying to pretend Chanukah (my preference) this year but my kids keep reminding me.

Your knitting makes me a bit envious. I finished a sweater that I'd been working on for nearly two years; it took so long partly because I kept having to start over when I forgot where I was. One of my life goals is to achieve knitting fluency.

Alwen said...

We had latkes, too, but because my DH-the-cook is Polish & Roman Catholic rather than Jewish, he fried them in bacon fat.

Marjorie said...

Dear Dale, "For the cats, you know. (My sons asks what's the Hebrew way to say "Blessed art Thou, oh Lord our God, King of the Universe, who commands us to plug in the Chanukah lights"."

The proper way to say all that, for the cats, you know, is Meowow Uow Orow uuow." And *He* understands perfectly.

Summer said...

Do you have a pattern for your French-Canadian Toques?