This Year We're Giving the Gift of Sanity!
When I was a kid, Chanukah was pretty simple gift-wise. I'd get a couple of bucks—and by a couple I mean 2—Chanukah gelt from my zayde (z"l) and a bit more from my parents. These days, kids expect eight nights of full-on presents. We're talking dolls, video games, bikes, even iPods. It got so bad last year that my kids spent most nights fighting and crying over presents and my wife and I tore out our hair in frustration over the seemingly endless avarice of our offspring. I know what you're thinking, "Wow, what a pack of greedy little rug rats." But the truth is my kids aren't especially greedy. They're just early-21st-century American children. Between what they see their friends getting, what they see in stores, what they see on the little bit of commercial television we allow them and the sheer volume of presents coming in from the various grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc., it is pretty hard for them not to think that Chanukah is just an eight-day gift gorge fest. Still, it was intensely mortifying when my daughter dismissed one of her bubbie's gifts—a donation to an international organization that promotes kids' soccer in poor countries—as "Boooring!"
If anything, Chanukah is really a story of sacrifice not excess. So this year, my wife and I decided to do something to make Chanukah more meaningful and less commercial. Historically, Chanukah is a relatively minor Jewish festival. And the giving of small gifts in the form of Chanukah gelt only came into vogue in the 17th century. In the last 100 years or so, Chanukah has grown in importance because of its national implications (the victory of the plucky Maccabees against great odds) and in its approximation of commercialized aspects of Christmas.
Will there be presents at my house this year? Yes, but we're thinking about having only one night of presents so the evenings' focus can be menorah lighting rather than present opening. Chanukah gelt will be modest (but slightly more than the $2 I used to get). We'll also be starting Chanukah preparations a bit early. We're spending Thanksgiving weekend going through our stuff to choose items to give to charity. That will clear out some clutter and make way for the inevitable onslaught of gifts. We might even volunteer at our local food pantry or soup kitchen.
The miracle of Chanukah was that there was enough oil to last eight days. I want my kids to recognize the Chanukah miracle and, especially in this time of economic distress, the miracle of having more than enough in our daily lives.
How do you make Chanukah meaningful?