In South Africa, where I grew up, we hardly knew it was Chanukah. It is simply not the commercial holiday it is here. My family was not observant at all so Chanukah hardly crossed my radar. We were already baal teshuva (recently observant) when we lived in Australia and Chanukah simply meant lighting candles and singing a few songs. What a surprise when we arrived in New York in 2000. I was astounded by a menorah in every window, the celebration in my building, Chanukah parties every night and, of course, the gift giving…
Until I had kids, I watched the Chanukah craziness unravel around me but I was not part of it. Then people started asking, “What are you giving your son for Chanukah?” Or once the kids understood, “Imma, I want this for Chanukah,” etc. In fact, my son at age four, who has always been an expert negotiator, came and showed me a toy catalog and he said, “ I want this and this and this.” He then looked up and said, “I can have eight toys, one for each day of Chanukah.”
We actually don’t believe in too many toy and birthday presents. I wrote in a previous blog our perspective on this (http://www.metroimma.com/profiles/blogs/making-birthday-parties). For all our kids’ birthdays, we ask for tzedakah–charity–and they are allowed limited gifts. Now suddenly they want eight gifts–help!!!!
My kids also come home from school and tell me about the big, fancy gifts their friends get. Giving eight small gifts also defeats the point. The kids are underwhelmed by the gift compared with those of their friends, and I find myself giving into something that I don’t agree with. So last year my husband and I gave then eight gifts. The gifts were charity donations to eight different organizations in their honor. The kids loved this and were proud. They were not competing with these gifts, they simply knew they had received a better gift – a mitzvah. They learned the message, “It’s better to give than to receive.” This year, I want Chanukah to be eight days of them giving.
So last year we made a list of eight projects they are going to work on. They were excited and happy to be choosing their own mitzvah projects and to be involved in such an important undertaking.
Getting kids to give unto others…priceless!
Metroimmas, tell us how you handle Chanukah gift-giving in your home…
Originally published: December 15, 2011