Chanukah is such a wonderful holiday for families, but often there is a struggle balancing the expectation of presents with the origin of Chanukah—the miracles Hashem did for the Jewish people. Some I have spoken to parents who have put a lot of thought into making Chanukah less about presents and more about meaningful giving and family experiences. Since Chanukah is upon us, here’s a slew of suggestions others have given me to help make this especially fun chag even more wonderful for your families.
The basic theme: Togetherness. My kids cannot recall what they received as gifts, but do remember the fun activities we did and the places we went together.
We scheduled different activities for each night. For example, one night last year we gave our kids a “Lite brite cube” and we all played together after dinner. Another night I bought Chanukah cookie cutters, and we baked cookies. We don’t buy our kids individual gifts on any night. That’s a job for grandparents.
Every night we lit candles, played dreidel, ate Chanukah food and did Chanukah arts and crafts. The presents the kids got were Chanukah related—Chanukah books, Chanukah crafts, different types of dreidels, money to play with (and then to keep). Before Chanukah we let the kids choose the candles they wanted to use and, of course, there was a family outing for donuts. And every night was shared with family or friend—we would go there or they would come to us for candle lighting and dinner. We bought silver and gold oak tag and make a big paper menorah and flames and “lit” that each night in addition to the regular menorahs. We also have an electric menorah that stays lit all day and night. It is a reminder that it is Chanukah during the days even when the regular menorahs burn out.
A week before Chanukah, I play a Chanukah CD around the house, and set up a “discovery” table of all the Chanukah books, pictures and symbols and crafts that were made by the kids since they were 2 years old. I also show them a video of my husband and me on a Chanukah night before they were born. They love to look at all of it and it gets us all in the mood for the festivities. As we sang Maoz Tzur last year, we took the time to explain to the kids what the different paragraphs meant and refer too.
More ideas: We eat at the dining room table each evening instead of the kitchen to make it more of a chag. We have each child pick out gifts for their siblings (with our guidance if needed) to help them think about each other. On one night, each parent takes the kids to buy a gift for the other parent to teach the kids about giving and appreciating their parents. On that night only mom and dad get gifts. Or play Chanukah building games, such as making menorahs and dreidels out of different media, like Lego, Lincoln logs, K’nex, magnetix,... We often do it with a group of their classmates, and it is a big hit.
We love to go the city to watch the huge Chabad Menorah (near FAO Schwartz) get lit and then go window shopping and strolling through the city. This is our favorite night each year (and no, we don’t buy them anything).
· Adults can check out www.yutorah.org/chanuka/
Talk about a themes of Chanukah. Appreciate that we are in a country where we can be Jewish openly, miracles, fighting for what you believe in….
In our house, one night of Chanukah is deemed “tzedakah night.” Instead of presents, we take the kids to Amazing Savings or some other store where each child picks out a present for someone else, for example, for a group home or special needs kids. If you are not sure where to donate such items, the Glicksman Family (who gave us this idea) would be happy to distribute any gifts to the individuals at their workplace (Women’s League, a group home, or HASC). You can contact them at 201-692-1866.
For our extended family gathering, we do give gifts. (They are under $15) The catch is that prior to gift giving, there is ALWAYS a project for “Chai Lifeline” in the form of a card. Over the years, the cards have been made from handmade necklaces, a card with a stuffed bear attached, a mask card, a cube card...After the kids complete the project (with older kids helping younger), we always take a group picture with everyone holding up what they have made.
Thanks to all those who shared these ideas. Please email me if you have any other thoughts at Beckykatz123_gmail.com.
By Becky Katz