Happy Hanukkah, readers. I thought about doing a Hanukkah post, even though I do not remember the holiday at all from 2002, but when I looked up the dates for that year I found out why--it coincided with Thanksgiving, so I was off campus. I expect I knew at the time that Hanukkah was occurring, but my experience of it would have been limited to occasional glimpses of animated Menorahs on television as various stations issued holiday greetings. So, no Hanukkah post this year. It was never a big deal on campus anyway. --D.
It's happened! Overnight, while everyone slept, elves magically decorated the Great Hall for Yule.
Of course, I was one of the elves, and the "magic" in this case was simply the wonder of surprise for the yearlings. It's a tradition, and I was one of the elves last year, too, but I don't think I wrote about it then. We did work at night, with a guard posted on the stairs--the guard's job was to swear approaching yearlings to secrecy, not to fight them off, since once you came out on the stairwell, the glow from the lights downstairs would have been obvious. But the chance of anyone coming out was very low; people usually don't leave their dorms in the middle of the night, especially not in winter, when the Mansion is cold.
We, the groundskeeping team, went to bed as normal, but we all got up again, in secret, just after midnight. In years past I understand they've had to be careful to exclude yearling members of the team, but we're all third-years, except for Lou, who's a fourth-year, so it wasn't an issue. We crept downstairs, one or two at a time, and found Karen waiting for us. Among other things, she's a trained florist. Silently, she motioned us to follow her outside. The night was calm, crisp, and very dark--the moon had already set and there was a slight, high haze dulling the stars. The air smelled of snow.
We followed Karen through the night to the Greenhouse, where Charlie met us with a pile of greenery and a plate of holiday cookies and a couple of thermoses of hot cocoa.
"Getting a head start on the cookies?" Karen teased him.
"Making sure the mice don't eat 'em," he replied, with a hint of his old growl.
Under Karen's direction, we assembled several long garlands of cut spruce, fir, and pine twigs, plus several more of English ivy. In each we added a spray of winterberry holly every fifteen to twenty inches. We also made wreaths of various sizes and little sprays of greenery to go at the bases of candles and the corners of the various trays of candies, cookies, and fruit. And we ate all the cookies and drank all the chocolate.
Charlie didn't work with us, although he did last year. Instead, he played holiday music on his tin whistle, stopping between songs to eat cookies and take swigs of chocolate. It was a rare thing, he usually doesn't play for an audience, but last year we said we wished we had music and I imagine he preferred the home-made kind to anything recorded.
He wasn't picky about the music--much of it was overtly Christian, some clearly pagan, plus two Hanukkah songs, the same ones I learned in school as a kid when the teachers were trying to be equitable. I've always wondered--are there more than just those two? Do Jewish people actually sing these songs, or are they simply the product of political correctness? In any case, there is nothing politically correct about Charlie, he just played whatever songs came into his head. We didn't talk much as we worked, except when we had to, though sometimes Lou sang along. Also, for a while Dillon kept farting, he could not seem to help himself, and that made us all laugh.
When Charlie laughed while playing, his tin whistle went "toot! toot! toot!" and that made us laugh harder.
Then we carried all our work back across campus, each garland being carried by several people, all stretched out like giant snakes so they wouldn't tangle, and decorated the room--we had written instructions on where everything should go, so we didn't have to make a lot of noise. We brought the plates of food and the candles and everything up from the basement where Karen had stashed them. The place looked good.
Then we all went to bed, but it was almost six AM by then, so I doubt any of us actually got any sleep. Dillon fell asleep over breakfast.
But the yearlings were all suitably impressed. I remember Steve Bees looking around and exclaiming "hey, Santa's been here!" and giggling. Ebony asked me to tell her what everything looked like, even though I'd told her last year and it didn't look any different. She could have explored most of the decorations by hand, and I can imagine the textures being interesting, but Ebony, of course, has little interest in texture. She wants the visual. And so I sat with her over breakfast, explaining everything and drinking large amounts of coffee. It was so nice and so, well, normal, to be with her like that that I almost wept, but I didn't.
That night, after sunset but before dinner, I found Charlie sitting by himself on the couch by the wood stove, reading. I was surprised to see him--he usually stays out of sight in the winter. But then, no one was around to see him but me. I asked if I could join him and he nodded, fractionally. I sat down and stretched my feet toward the warm stove.
"You hardly growl at me anymore," I remarked, after a while. He responded by literally growling, as in imitating a dog, and glanced at me over his book. I laughed.
"I 'growl' when I need to," he added. "With you, there's no longer a need."
"I'm glad to hear it. Is that why you're visible now?"
He looked around, as though just then noticing he was in a student-accessible part of campus. I have no idea why he was really looking around, though. He put his book down and looked at me.
"I wanted to enjoy the decorations. I'm not going to be visible very often this winter," he told me.
"I know. I won't seek you out."
He nodded, agreeing.
"But in the spring we'll hang out," he added.
"Yeah?" I said, probably sounding over-eager. He's largely ignored me for a year.
"Yeah," he confirmed. And then went back to reading his book. I got up and wandered away, leaving him to his solitude and his reading.