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Happy Hanukkah, just in time

There's no better holiday for procrastinators than Hanukkah. It's eight days long, so if it sneaks up on you, there's still time to give someone a card or present.

There's no better holiday for procrastinators than Hanukkah. It's eight days long, so if it sneaks up on you, there's still time to give someone a card or present.

It sneaks up on you because it's on the lunar calendar and can fall anytime around the Winter Solstice. As I find myself explaining to non-Jews every year, it's not a major Jewish holiday. It's become one in America because it's assumed that everybody's celebrating something in December. If everyone else's kids are getting Christmas presents, you'd better be prepared to have Hanukkah Harry put gifts under the Hanukkah bush, or explain why he didn't and come up with a better idea.

When the kids are grown, Hanukkah is still enjoyable and meaningful, commemorating freedom and light but without having to buy a Tender Heart Care Bear. This year, it started at sundown last Friday. I finally got around to lighting my menorah -- the candelabra with eight branches symbolizing the tiny bit of oil that miraculously lasted eight days after the destruction of the Jews' temple by the Syrians a couple of millennia ago -- on Tuesday.

Hanukkah ends at sundown tomorrow. Immediately following is Christmas Eve, then Christmas. It may not mean much to most Jews, but it does to Peggy and Rod Lavick of Cloquet. They'll be celebrating -- not Christmas, but their 65th wedding anniversary.

"We eloped," Rod Lavick said of Christmas Day, 1941.

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"We went to the rabbi's office in Minneapolis. I came back home and she came back home and we didn't tell anybody until April."

The word has spread since then.

"We can't go out for dinner on that day because everybody is closed up," he said of the date that has otherwise worked out fine.

If the Lavicks really want to dine out, they could wait a day and, if feeling multicultural, celebrate yet another holiday. The day after Christmas, Kwanzaa begins, lasting until New Year's Day. As an African-American Jew with Christian relatives, my holiday season isn't even half over.

Loosely based on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa offers even better excuses for procrastinators. Each day is named for one of Seven Principles designated by Maulana Karenga, the California State University professor who created the holiday in 1966. My favorite is kujichagulia -- meaning self-determination, the theme for the second day. Put off giving a card or gift until then and you can say, "Why, this is in honor of your kujichagulia." Or better, wait until the sixth day and say, "I just had to admire your kuumba" -- creativity.

Complicating things personally is the fourth day (ujamaa, or cooperative economics), which is my birthday. Though Kwanzaa wasn't around when I was growing up, cooperative economics is fitting because like every kid born around the holidays, I was traumatized thinking I was only going to get one gift.

It wasn't true, except one year when I asked my father for a Kenner's Girder and Panel set.

"You want a girdle and panty set?" he replied.

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I didn't press the issue.

I still want one, though, and, it turns out, they're all over eBay -- the original edition from the 1960s.

I'll order it later.

In the spirit of the holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa and Happy New Year to all.

Robin Washington is editorial page editor of the News Tribune and a commentator on National Public Radio's "News & Notes."

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