When I flip through my childhood photo albums to pictures of our family Hanukkah celebrations, I see pans of oily latkes, a table sealed with a layer of shiny foil under four hanukkiyot—each one with its own personality, like each of my three siblings and I—and a larger candelabra, which my parents lit.
My parents’ hanukkiyah played “Rock of Ages.” We would stand together around the table singing its verses and then belt out the other holiday tunes we learned that year in school. Finally, my mom handed out presents.
Like it or not, the Festival of Lights—not dissimilar from its Christian counterpart, which also has holy origins—is associated today with gifts and gelt. With seven children, I am always looking for new ways to fill the house with Hanukkah spirit without breaking the bank. Here are some ideas:
1. Craft Your Own Hanukkiyah
Store-bought hanukkiyot can run several hundred dollars each. Multiply $350 by the 1.86 to 2.1 average number of children per Jewish/secular household, add one for Mom and Dad, and the holiday becomes an investment. Crafting your own hanukkiyah can be equally as beautiful. It also adds a dimension of fun and creativity that doesn’t exist when you buy one.
Last year, I took my children to an area crafts store and bought basic wooden hanukkiyah bases for a few dollars each and sets of glass candle-holders. At home, I cracked open my nail polish collection (it’s pretty extravagant) and some tubes of acrylic paint, which we poured into individual egg carton palates. A mess of sequins, glitter, and stickers later, each child had their own hanukkiyah.
If you have younger children for whom it might be unsafe to light their own hanukkiyah, my girlfriend Shari Klein, an educator for 25 years, recommends “building” an edible hanukkiyah. Cookie stacks, glued together by peanut butter, marshmallow crème, or chocolate spread become a base and candle sticks. It’s a fun Hanukkah table centerpiece and delicious Hanukkah dessert.
2. Design Your Own Hanukkah Games
Rather than buying out your local synagogue gift shop before the family Hanukkah party, why not make your own games?
One year, Klein made a family Bingo game by designing a set of Bingo cards with pictures of all of her and her husband’s family members and their children. The Bingo balls were small pieces of paper on which the names were written. The Bingo chips were chocolate Hanukkah gelt.
“I made 20 different boards, each with 12 pictures—sometimes different pictures of each person on different cards,” explains Klein. “We would reminisce about when the pictures were taken and it made the night really meaningful and fun.”
3. Make a Personalized Hanukkah Gift
Creativity over cost is certainly an important aspect of Hanukkah on a budget. For those of us who enjoy a bottle of wine—or 12 or 24—how about making a wine cork trivet? Pinterest has a whole section on wine cork trivets. My experience is that collecting the materials needed for this gift is just as much fun as making it. And they are uber effective for protecting your dining room table.
Another idea, as per Klein, is to make a memory or shadow box for someone you love and with whom you share good times. Real Simple has an easy recipe for crafting this piece. If you think ahead (bookmark this article for next year), you could be collecting keepsakes the whole year! But if you haven’t, everything can be found on the internet. Google the movie you saw on his/her birthday and download an image of its promotional poster. Print colorful private jokes and sayings using WordArt. And hack into your WhatsApp account to fish out those images that elicit special memories.
Pinterest has lots of other Hanukkah craft ideas that work for children ranging from toddlers through high schoolers.
4. Run a Mystery Maccabee Gift Exchange
If crafts are just not your thing (or you really love shopping!), you can implement a secret-Santa-style gift exchange. For Hanukkah, let’s call it Mystery Maccabee. Each person can pick a sibling’s or parent’s name from a hat and then invest in that one gift. This also works well in offices and for larger Hanukkah parties.
Last year, my family and I made the gift exchange into an adventure. Each child was given an old shoe box, which he/she transformed into a personal treasure box. After pulling one of their sibling’s names from a hat, we took a trip to the mall. Each kid had alone time with Mommy to pick out a gift for his secret recipient. The catches: It had to cost $25 or under and fit into the treasure box.
The children had so much fun opening their buried Hanukkah treasure!
Do you have other ideas for celebrating Hanukkah on a budget? Let us know in the comments below!