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.
4. Reading night. Thanks to PJ Library and our local public library, we have a number of Hanukkah books. We’re going to lay them out on the living room floor, and read them all. We’ll also save up all of the Hanukkah cards we’ve received, and read through them one by one, talking about the family members and friends who sent them.
5. Dance party. There are a number of great Hanukkah songs out there, but we especially love Shira Kline’s album and Rachel Buchman’s music, which includes both Yiddish and English. Her song Drey Zich, Dredele gets my girls spinning until they fall to the ground like dizzy dreidels. They love it.
6. Homemade gelt. Sharing, betting, and eating gelt is a long-standing Hanukkah tradition. You can buy gelt fairly cheaply, but let’s face it, most of it tastes terrible. Here’s a recipe for making it at home that’s so easy, even I can do it.
7. Counting around the house. My daughters are still learning to count, so each night we’re going to play a very simple counting game—on the first night of Hanukkah, after we light one candle, we’ll find things around the house that we only have one of (the fridge, the stove, our cat). On the second night, we’ll look for two of something, and by the last night of Hanukkah, I predict we’ll have 8 baby dolls lined up on the couch.
8. Movie night. We don’t watch much TV around here, so when we do, it’s quite a treat. There aren’t a huge number of Hanukkah movies out there, but I’ve found a few—just be sure to screen them ahead of time to make sure they’re appropriate for your kids!
However you celebrate the holiday, I hope it is filled with light, latkes, and lots of time with your family. Happy Hanukkah!
If you want to read up on the holiday, go here. And learn to make latkes! And doughnuts! And play dreidel!