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Jun 3 2013

Birthday Parties: Is Asking for Donations Instead of Gifts Too Preachy?

By at 10:03 am

lego set with falg“Partying all night” now means the yearly ritual where my husband, my son, and I open his birthday gifts after the last cranky guest has left for the evening. (This year, my night-owl daughter may well join us.) Hey, it’s the closest thing we Jewish families have to Christmas.

Amid fallen streamers and crumpled napkins, we paw at tissue paper to discover sets of Legos, puzzles that beep mysteriously, rickety railroad sets. With delight, Josh and Sam extract the toys, even ones we already have (in their view, there’s no such thing as too many Imperial Star Destroyers) and squeeze them into the mounds of crap climbing every inch of our wall space. When they move on to the next gift I quietly salvage the packaging and pocket the gift receipt, mapping out my return route for Monday. If it doesn’t have a gift receipt, I’m even more determined to try. Refund or bust! Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 11 2012

The Fifth Night Project: Teaching Giving During Hanukkah

By at 11:15 am

box of toy donations for charityLet’s face it; in order to help Jewish children from feeling left out of the Christmas season, Hanukkah has lost much of it’s traditional meaning and has become a holiday based around eight nights of presents. Customarily, Hanukkah is celebrated with candles, dreidels, and latkes; the eight crazy nights of toys and books was only added to compete with Christmas. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 29 2012

How to Do 8 Nights of Hanukkah Without Creating Spoiled Brats

By at 5:07 pm

The Hanukkah I see in children’s books demonstrates families playing dreidel
and eating latkes while the menorah shines brilliantly in the window. Then
there’s the inevitable illustration of the kids’ utter elation when the parents unveil
a bag of gelt night after night.

The scene sounds delightful, but I can’t imagine it’s realistic in all Jewish homes. Let’s be honest: starting in October, lots of Jewish kids obsess over the “holiday” (aka Christmas) catalogues that arrive daily in mailboxes around the country.

Right or wrong, at some point this tradition of 8 nights of gifts as influenced by Christmas has become part of the Hanukkah many of us know and love. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 6 2012

A Birthday Party Without Presents?

By at 1:19 pm

As I was planning my daughter’s 6th birthday, I had to ask myself why so many of us continue to throw big parties complete with an enormous pile of presents. I recognize that the parties are large to avoid hurt feelings, but can we agree that the amount of presents the kids receive as a result is objectionably over the top?

I’m not against the idea of gifts as a rule. It’s wonderfully celebratory to open some beautifully wrapped presents that someone took the time to choose. But when parents feel pressured to invite the whole class, we are talking about 20 or so gifts. I don’t think a birthday is more memorable for our children because of that seventh, tenth, or 18th present. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Certainly receiving 14 new Barbies is no more joyful than receiving, say, four. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 12 2011

Hanukkah Without the Presents, But Lots of Fun

By at 11:45 am

"All I got for Hanukkah was a lump of coal!"

Don’t get me wrong. I really love getting presents. But somehow, giving gifts on Hanukkah doesn’t make sense to me. It just doesn’t seem in keeping with a holiday which is about time, light, and miracles.

My husband and I traditionally haven’t exchanged too many gifts over Hanukkah, and now that we have young children, we’re trying to figure out what our family traditions will look like. Last year I kept track of all the gifts the girls would be getting from other family members and friends, and made sure we had just one gift per child per night. I didn’t think it was too extravagant, yet somehow the presents still became the focus of the evening. The girls’ interest in the candlelight and dreidels was quickly replaced by a brief but powerful obsession with the newest toy, which burned out faster than the candles in the menorah. If nothing else, the memories of Hanukkah celebrations should last longer than one night, much like the oil the Macabees found in the second temple.

We’re trying something new this year. Instead of giving gifts, we’re going to focus on experiences that honor Hanukkah for what it is, and don’t try to make it into something it’s not. Each night after we light the candles, we’ll celebrate with an activity we can do together as a family, or with friends. Here are eight ideas that don’t involve presents:

1.       Hanukkah party with friends. We’ll have dreidels, gelt, and crafts for the children, wine for the adults, and latkes and sufganiyot for everyone.

2.       Craft night. If you’re looking for something straight out of the box, you can try these easy dreidel painting kits. Or, with a quick trip to the hardware store for some wood, bolts, glue, markers, and paint, you and your kids can make beautiful menorahs.

3.       Family dreidel night. My daughters are still learning the dreidel game, so we have fun pulling out all of our dreidels, and trying to get them all spinning at once. When the kids are older, you can have a real tournament with gelt. Read the rest of this entry →


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