Columns - 2010


    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    This is the time of most secular years when some people opine about Chanukah while their less Jewish neighbors pine tree their living rooms. A time when some Jews offer furtive glances at streets lined with lit up fir trees.

    In most years, this is the time for talking about the importance of Chanukah, the unimportance of Channukah, the assimilation of Hannukah, or the actual spelling of Hanukkah. But not this December.

    Why is this December different from all other Decembers? In all other Decembers, or at least on most days during most of them, Chanukah is imminent or in progress. This year, by the time you read this, Chanukah is probably already over, faster than you can say "leftover turkey."

    It is a rare year when Chanukah begins so early on the secular calendar. It is an even more rare year when the nights of Chanukah line up perfectly with the secular calendar such that any idiot can know how many candles to light just by looking at the day of December and adding zero.

    So while those who bought the sequel to our Bible still race around in pre-yuletide fervor, Jews everywhere will spend a long month looking in the rearview mirror; a month referred to by the Mishnah tractate Bava Gump as "Emptycember."

    But have no fear, even though Chanukah is fading into the past faster than the playoff chances of many NFL teams, there's plenty for Jews to do in the month of Emptycember, including the following modest examples.

    The traditional Jewish Christmas Eve meal of Chinese food can still be had. And you'll still have leftovers til they go bad.

    The few Jews who remember to fast on the tenth of Tevet each year are used to it jumpstarting their post-New Years diets, but in Emptycember it falls the mid-month prior. Instead of being among the resolutionaries who flood the gyms in January and trickle away by February, you can get a two-week headstart and stop going to the gym while they're all still signing up.

    During Emptycember, Christmas shopping is in high gear like any other year. But you get to be the envy of the store by being the only person in the Returns line. You can get your After Chanukah Sale exchanges done before most people finish their pre-Christmas shopping.

    You can leisurely circle the mall in no rush to find a really good parking space. Once you get one, take some time to reorganize your trunk. (In inclement weather, the best parking space is, of course, in the parking deck.)

    Since you'll look like you're packing your trunk, you'll get to tell eager circlers every thirty seconds that you're not leaving yet. Once this entertainment starts driving the most impatient Christmas shoppers to violence, you can begin an auction for who gets your parking space.

    You can enjoy a longer holiday. In all other years, Chanukah lasts only eight days. But Emptycember lets it linger for nearly a month, carried forward by well-intended people who keep wishing you a happy Chanukah all month even though it ended before the conference championship games.

    Finally, the risk of Chanukah candles accidentally igniting a tree in a mixed household is reduced by nearly forty percent. The percentage is somewhat higher for lit candles.

    Unfortunately, as the Talmud said on the 1987 album "In the Dark," "every silver lining's got a touch of grey." Thus, Emptycember has a few less pleasant ramifications.

    Despite Chanukah being weeks earlier than normal, the latkes are just as hard as other years. And in Emptycember there are many more days for them to be leftovers, though this makes you appreciate the Chinese food on Christmas Eve all the more.

    Emptycember is not always consolation enough that Jews lose weeks off their lives by being forced to start asking, "how did it get to be Chanukah already" by early November.

    Two words: turkey latkes.

    You have to finish all your Chanukah shopping before the prices get really good. To minimize this for at least most years, the Maccabees waited as long as they could, until the end of Kislev, to rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem. (If it weren't for last-minute Christmas shoppers cleaning out the stores, they could have more easily bought eight days worth of oil in the first place.)

    But in spite of these liabilities, Emptycember gives all Jews the greatest Chanukah present of all. Thanks to the imminent leap month next spring, which always follows an early Chanukah, everyone gets an extra month until Passover cooking, cleaning, or matzah eating.

    Doug Brook is a writer who invented the hit food of Chanukahs future: matzah latkes. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, become a fan at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.