Recently I found myself walking through the aisles of Costco, feeling nostalgic. The rows were packed with Christmas trees and lights, winter blankets and electric fireplaces, and aisles and aisles of toys. I slowed to look at the doll houses and dress-up clothes, craft bins and action figures, Legos, video games, and larger-than-life stuffed animals. I looked at the latest accessories for American Girl dolls and smiled at the images of Disney princesses printed on every pink box in sight. I wanted to reach out and fill my cart with these prized childhood possessions. But then I remembered, my girls—now 14 and (almost) 12—were simply too old to enjoy dolls and make-believe anymore.
In the past, it was easy to simply buy “stuff” for my daughters for Hanukkah. Each year, they eagerly made their lists for our eight-night gift exchange, and each year, I joined crowds of shoppers, hoping to purchase what I could before everything was either picked over or sold out. I’ll admit, I enjoyed wrapping the colorful boxes filled with brand new toys, imagining my daughters’ squeals of delight when they tore into the gift wrap and tissue paper. But this year, as I walked through Costco, I had an internal conversation with myself that went something like this:
“Have that… Have that… Have three of those… Don’t need that… Too old for that….”
I realized two things that afternoon. First, we are maturing as a family, which means how we celebrate Hanukkah has to mature as well. And second, we are very, very fortunate. We’ve never had to worry about having enough gifts. We never had to decide whether to buy one toy versus another.
With our girls getting older, I decided that this year, Hanukkah would be less about getting and more about giving. Eight nights is the perfect amount of time to both enjoy gift exchanges and family dinners, but to also give back to those less fortunate. And with this year’s holiday falling over school break, we will not have to rush to fit in candle lighting, payers, and presents with dinner time, homework, and evening activities. We can take the time to put meaning into the holiday.
I broached the idea over dinner with the girls and my husband. They were instantly on board. Together, we brainstormed ways to give back. We decided to not only buy a present or two to put in the bins strategically placed in local grocery stores for families in need, but to visit the Ronald McDonald House, the Children’s Hospital, or local homeless shelter to personally distribute goodies and visit with patients and residents. My youngest daughter (ever the animal lover) proposed keeping a tzedakah box next to the menorah, and every night when we light candles, we’ll each contribute to the box. At the end of the week, we will donate the amount we raised to a local pet shelter. It was very rewarding to see them get into the spirit of giving.
That’s not to say we will rule out gift-giving! It wouldn’t be Hanukkah without the family party, latkes, donuts, games of dreidel, and gift exchanges. But to be able to spread the spirit of charity over winter break and truly make the holiday meaningful made us all excited. So this year when we light the menorah and say the prayers, we’ll also take a moment to appreciate what we have as a family. I can think of no better way to celebrate.