So often I hear, as a pre-school Jewish educator, how frustrated parents are about the long eight-day holiday of gift giving. There are too many toys, the kids don’t appreciate it, they aren’t getting the meaning of the holiday, presents become the total focus. I would like to suggest some different ways of celebrating, so that it does have some meaning and is pleasurable for the whole family.
Over the past 33 years of being a mother, with three girls who still love Chanukah today, I have tried a number of methods to create a traditional holiday to remember and appreciate. Here are some suggestions that I would like to share. Yes, I did go out and get each daughter a “good present” that each wanted, but usually only for one or two nights.
One night was designated as “Sister Night,” (call it what you want – “Sibling Night”) where the girls gave each other gifts. When they were young, I bought tiny inexpensive gifts for them to give to each other. As they got older, they made things for each other or they bought gifts with their allowance. If you have just one precious child, how about doing this with a cousin — calling it “cousin night.”
We celebrated “extended family night” (including “grandparents night”) which given the inclination of most grandparents — was pretty “over the top”. Perhaps, as grandparents, you can give your grown children the gift of “time alone night”, and baby-sit.
One night was “movie night”, or “event night”, where we went to a movie, play, concert, bowling, or planned a family activity for the week-end. Some parents can use it as “family goes out to eat night.” Or, gift wrap tickets or brochures for a future concert or trip.
We had “pajama night” — new warm winter PJ’s, — there was “calendar night” — a new calendar for the year. Then, there was “cooking a meal night”, where we cooked together and made latkes and other dishes. And, we celebrated “book night” — new books for everyone.
Then, there was “game night”. Children love to play board games with their families. So, set aside a night where everyone plays together, whether it is Candy Land, Ping Pong, Scrabble, Monopoly, Chess, or Taboo. Family time together is a wonderful gift.
We especially enjoyed “tzedekah night” when I collected all those charity envelopes that usually come in late fall. I put them in a pile and the girls chose which charity they wanted to give to. We would empty all the tzedekah boxes in the house and the girls would have fun sorting the coins. When they were younger, I would write the check. But, as they got older, they contributed to the charity directly from their own baby-sitting earnings.
Other suggestions include, a night where you invite another family over just to share the holiday together with no gifts.
Another idea is “photo night”. Look at all those old photos; familiarize your child with their relatives. Let the kids take pictures of people in the room, the menorah, or parts of the house. Start a photo album called “Chanukah Through the Years” — and add to it, year after year.
One of my children’s favorite nights is “Nana night”. My mother, Myrna, died during the Chanukah season, 30 years ago. She had already bought a gift to be given “from her” to my then 3 year old daughter. I did give it to her saying, “Nana wanted you to have this.” As the years rolled on, I continued that tradition — buying gifts that I thought my mother would want my girls to have. I still do it to this day. If there is someone special in your life that you want your children to remember, I suggest you try this. This, of course, helps make that person “come alive” in your children’s mind. Add some stories about that loved one, along with pictures and memorabilia, and they will live on with and through your kids.
This is a holiday of lights, so use lots of Chanukiahs for each night. Play the dreidel game, serve latkes, play Chanukah music and give out gelt. Act out the story of Chanukah, Judah Maccabee, and the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. Adapt the way you tell the story to the age of your child. I am sure that, for this season, you can use your imagination and cryour family. Chag Sameach!!
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