Posted by: michelle @ books my kids read | December 1, 2011

reconciling hanukkah

Two posts in the same week? What has gotten into me? Well, this blog is about my random musings and this is what has been on my mind lately.

As Hanukkah draws near, I am trying to make it truly special for the girls without going overboard in a commercial sense. I think the thoughts started invading my mind when I had a conversation with my brother-in-law about gifts. I knew that my husband’s family hadn’t given gifts, but hearing it again from a different source and hearing how he dealt with being different in the south truly brought it to the forefront of my mind. I had such a completely different experience growing up.

I grew up in Los Angeles, in the valley, where Jews were everywhere. I had a bus that I rode to elementary school that was basically empty during the high holy days – and it was one of the big buses that probably held 40 kids. We knew that we were not the majority, but we didn’t feel like Christmas overwhelmed us. Teachers in our schools covered both holidays with knowledge.

Here in the south, that’s less of a reality. A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about how her daughter’s class was drawing Christmas pictures and when her daughter asked if she could draw a Hanukkah picture, she was told no. J was at the library the other day and asked why there weren’t any Hanukkah decorations. She is also oddly bothered this year by the amount of Christmas stuff up. I think she’s just starting to feel different. We are talking about it a ton. We are bringing out all of our Hanukkah books. We keep talking about the fact that Hanukkah is celebrating our fight to be Jews, that many years ago there were people who didn’t want us to be Jewish and tried to make the Jews stop believing but that the Jews fought back.

But Hanukkah isn’t about gifts. I get that. However, it is about education and interest and little gifts help that matter. I don’t want my child to go back to school after the holidays feeling even more different because she didn’t get any gifts. My brother-in-law apparently had that experience. A few days ago, I read this really interesting article about gift giving. Some great points are

It is possible, however, to highlight the meaning of Chanukah throughgift-giving. For example, giving your kids books or tapes or videos about the story of Chanukah so they understand what it is we’re celebrating.

It’s okay to give gifts on Chanukah, as long as they are given with the purpose of drawing a child close to his/her roots, and that the act of giving speaks louder than the gift itself.

It got me looking around and so I also found this article which shows more of the history of gift giving for Hanukkah.

Though gifts might make Hanukkah seem like a “Jewish Christmas,” there can be value in taking time to select a thoughtful and tasteful gift for a child you love. And there is undeniable pleasure in seeing children excited to play with new toys–especially when those toys are helping them learn and develop new skills.

When I do Hanukkah gifts, I try to make some of them about Judaism. This is the time of year that we get most of our “Jewish” toys and books. When you don’t have a strong Jewish community filled with kids who see each other a lot, and when shabbat services are only once a month (and we are missing November and December), you have to find ways to bring a strong sense of Judaism into the home.

A lot of people talk about having your children give a toy away for each gift that they receive. Maybe one year I will start that concept. I don’t know that we are ready for that yet. For now, I have come up with my own way to reconcile that I want my kids to get gifts for Hanukkah – this year we are going to do a craft a day and start our own collection of home-made Hanukkah decorations to help make our home full of the Hanukkah spirit and to work as a time to talk about the holiday on various levels.  I’ve started to collect my ideas over on Pinterest. J has started to enjoy doing crafts more and she likes the idea of keeping one box of decorations and adding to it. Now, I am NOT a crafty person, so this is a huge step for me, but one that I think we will all benefit from. I am also checking with a local friend about those in our Jewish community who might benefit from the joy of a young child (or two) bringing Hanukkah cookies and smiles to them. We live in a retirement community and not everyone gets to experience Hanukkah through the eyes of a young child. That could help J see that the holiday is about cherishing our heritage and doing mitzvot. Finally, I am going to make a bigger effort to have people over during the holiday to celebrate with us, not by opening gifts, but by enjoying a good meal, playing dreidel and enjoying the people around us.

Religion is a hard thing to teach your children. Making sure that my girls have strong Jewish identities even though we are very much a minority here is doubly important. I can’t take anything for granted and know that if I want them to truly embrace their own Jewishness, I must work at it. Now that J is old enough, that is exactly what I’m going to do.



  1. Well said. I would love to see it in the pilot

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