This year, for the last time until about 80,000 years from now, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah fall on the same day. Thanksgivingfully (hahaha), Hanukkah goes on for eight nights but Thanksgiving is only one. This means that for those of us who value the religious, spiritual, and cultural significance of Hanukkah, it won’t be completely engulfed by Thanksgiving. We’ll have seven more nights to sing Maoz Tsur and spin the dreidel.
However, for those of us with children raised in a day and age when Hanukkah has become synonymous with gift-giving, this coincidence becomes a problematic one. Case in point: my 5-year-old seems to think that Thanksgiving is a gift-giving holiday since he has heard that Hanukkah falls on the same day. I keep telling him it’s Hanukkah that he thinks of as a gift-giving holiday, and he looks at me like I’m insane. In his little brain, they are on the same day, and he therefore expects gifts on Thanksgiving. Hence, it’s a gift holiday. Sigh.
Why do I have a problem with my son associating Hanukkah with gift-giving? The first reason is that historically it hasn’t been associated with gifts, both in the greater Jewish population and in my family in particular. When I was growing up, my parents typically gave me new pajamas, a new wall calendar, and some collection of stationery items (pencils, note cards, erasers) as gifts. I always got at least one new dreidel for my dreidel collection. And of course, chocolate Hanukkah gelt. There may have been some years when I received a toy but my immediate association with Hanukkah when it comes to the notion of gift-giving is one of small gifts that were primarily functional and generally elicited eye-rolls and complaining from me because I thought all of that stuff was lame.
Except the Winnie the Pooh PJs I got when I was about 8. Those were awesome.
The second reason that I have a problem with my sons associating gift-giving with Hanukkah is that I tend to shy away from embracing materialism. I’m not implying that people who buy their kids tons of Hanukkah presents are excessively materialistic, wrong, or bad. I simply believe that my children have plenty of toys (which they do), there are many children in this world who have no toys (which is also true), and I would much rather deemphasize the need for the acquisition of more toys. I’m funny like that. I like simplicity as much as possible. We have no toys with batteries, I don’t let my kids watch TV, and they don’t play on the computer. I’m a hippie, whatever.
As a divorced mom, my ex and I get to navigate Hanukkah–and all things really–in a new way. Last year, we did a “No LEGO Chanukah,” but together we chose a special moderately-priced toy to give our sons along with dreidels, cartoon-themed yarmulkes, and vegan Hanukkah gelt. Both sets of our sons’ grandparents and even their aunt and uncles give them toys and that’s also fine. Do I wish I could control everyone else and discourage them from buying tons of toys for my kids? Of course! But I’ve learned that generally doesn’t make for shalom bayit (peace in the home) or personal shalom either, so I smile big and complain about it to my BFF when everyone is asleep.
In case you are curious, here are a few gifts each of my sons informed me they would like to receive this Hanukkah with their kind-of-adorable reasons why. And since my sons don’t spend any time on the internet, I know they will never see this post which is basically letting you know that we will be likely buying them these things for Hanukkah.
1. Miles: Remote Control Helicopter
“I’ve always been wanting a remote control helicopter since I was, like, 5. I’ve been just waiting for one.”
2. Fred: LEGO Chima Set“I always always always wanted to get this. That’s what I’ve always wanted, all of the lions, and …and I wanted a gentle thing. I’m always going to want a gentle thing (not too breakable). I don’t have a lot of breakable toys.”
3. Miles: MAGIC cards
“‘MAGIC The Gathering’ is a game that I like to play. It’s a card game. I add to decks with cards like this with cards to win the game.”
4. Fred: Michael Jackson glove
“I really want a glove and we not have one of those gloves.”
5. Miles: Spy kit
“I’ve been into spying from the time I was 5 or 6. I really like spying.”
Now that I am a parent, I appreciate tremendously the example my parents set for me in their decisions about gift-giving at Hanukkah. Truth be told, their decisions were for the most part based on their financial limitations. However, I also value the lessons learned from growing up in a modest home that had to budget and couldn’t give me “everything I wanted.” And sometimes being told, “This is the best we can do. Either enjoy it or don’t, do you want another latke?” is all that needs to be said.
I’m not trying to force my children to experience the Hanukkahs that I experienced growing up in a modest home but I also like to keep in mind that going with the trends of the season/a culture of consuming/excessive gift-giving doesn’t have to work for every family and it doesn’t mean my children will be traumatized if I don’t buy them several hundred dollars’ worth of toys. At least I hope they won’t be.
I plan to incorporate some acts of tzedakah (charity) this season and I will have my sons participate in baking or (depending on how my hand is doing) buying goodies for our mailman, our garbage collectors, and our wonderful next door neighbor, the contractor. I want to make sure that my sons, even amidst receiving gifts and celebrating Hanukkah, see the holiday season as one of giving as well as receiving.
And I will make sure to remind my younger son that Thanksgiving is not a gift holiday, at least not for another 80,000 years.