Dear Shaina,

Twenty-eight people for Thanksgiving dinner, eight people staying at our house and an additional five to ten more for most meals after that…and we all survived! Having our favorite masseuse come to the house over the weekend is definitely one of the best traditions we’ve started in the past couple years. The scheduling miraculously accommodated everyone’s comings and goings, and even Dad got hooked this time.

It was a full and bountiful Thanksgiving, and like you, I am grateful for the multitude of ongoing opportunities Judaism gives us to celebrate with friends and family and reaffirm our gratitude.

The turkey feathers were barely plucked as visions (or should I say aromas?) of latkes nudged their way into our consciousness. It felt so odd to be saying, “We’ll see you in three weeks.” Having been on the once-every-four-to-eight-months-international-Shaina-diet, I am feeling pretty satisfied…not quite stuffed, but pretty comfortably satisfied. Of course, there’s always room for more Shaina in my diet. The concept of being able to see you without pulling out a passport on either end is no small comfort.

I am getting ready to haul out the 16-inch stainless steel electric frying pan in preparation for our annual Chanukah latke marathon. I am one of the few people I know who really likes the after-smell of burnt potato and onion grease lingering in my house, my hair and my fingernails. I become one with my latkes. I can think of worse things.

Chanukah in our house comes with its own set of evolving traditions. I remember the days of blue Jell-O dreidel “jigglers” and multicolored glitter sugar-cookie stars and menorahs. Then there were those 3D paper eyeglasses that turned bright lights everywhere (even Christmas lights) into Jewish stars or dreidels.

Our newest tradition, a wacky white elephant gift exchange, has turned out to be the most fun yet. Each person brings something from their home (wrapped, of course) that they no longer want, but someone else might (or not). Numbers are drawn, and the first person picks an anonymously contributed, wrapped gift and opens it. The next person does the same and can choose to keep it or exchange it for one previously picked…and so on.

Not only is this a great recycling opportunity, it has proven to be pretty wild when the unpredictable items of true value begin to reveal themselves in the inevitable exchanges and counter-exchanges defying all rules and decorum.

It has never really been about the gifts in our house, but always about the friends and family, fun and food. This year will be no different, and I couldn’t be happier that you’ll be here with us. I think I’ll start cleaning out my closet right now in search of the perfect re-gift item. And I know you’ll find plenty of options left in your closet to keep the exchange going.