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.
And yes, yes, yes, I know that letting Hanukkah resemble Christmas undermines the main message of Hanukkah. I don’t need the lecture. My kids go to Chabad every Shabbat morning. They love Shabbat dinners, decorating the Sukkah, and attending ice cream parties for Shavuot. They even know that Hanukkah celebrates the war story of the Maccabees‘ unlikely defeat of the Greeks (and not just the oil lasting for eight days). Nobody would accuse my husband and me of neglecting to pass on a healthy dose of serious Jewish tradition to our children.
Nevertheless, instead of completely trying to fight this Christmas imitation during Hanukkah, I’ve come to embrace it by adding my own practical and reasonable twist to the nightly celebrations. I mean, just because I let my kids open gifts during every night of Hanukkah, it doesn’t mean that the toy section of Target needs to take up temporary residence in my living room.
Trust me, you can do 8 nights of gifts without creating spoiled brats, even if it seems like on a couple of the nights the only thing missing is the eggnog and the tree.
Ideas for a festive but practical Hanukkah:
1st Night: Games and puzzles.
Use the holiday as a time to take stock of the games and puzzles its time to retire due to the kids’ increased skill level or their propensity to misplace essential pieces.
2nd Night: Books.
Give the kids all those books you were guilted into buying at the school’s Scholastic book fair. (This is also the perfect opportunity to sign up for PJ Library to get a free Jewish book in the mail every month. For those in the New York metro area, sign up here through Kveller. For those elsewhere, visit here.)
3rd Night: Clothes you would have bought anyway.
Think pajamas or fun socks and tights. Another idea is hats and gloves that they already lost in early November. (I live in Minnesota.)
4th Night: Family party!
If at any point during Hanukkah we’re having a party with members of our extended family, I do not give the kids anything from us. They seem to get their toy fix on this night.
5th Night: Replenish.
Construction paper running low? Markers are dry? It’s the perfect time to restock the art supplies!
6th Night: Gifts from out-of-town family.
Hopefully you have some grandparents or aunts and uncles that live out of town and like to send a gift to the kids.
7th Night: Creative Practicality.
My kids are packrats. This year I’m trying to teach them the art of keeping only their favorite projects and other junk, I mean memories, which is why each of the kids will receive a plastic box with their name and the word “memories” on the cover.
8th Night: Giving Back.
At the end of Hanukkah we discuss where we want to donate money and time as a family in the upcoming fiscal year. It’s also a great night for siblings to exchange presents and to give something to Mom and Dad (maybe using the art supplies they got earlier in the week).
Kveller readers: We want to know your ideas for keeping Hanukkah fun and festive without creating a sense of entitlement in your kids.