Just to be crystal clear, Hanukkah is a festival to celebrate the rededication of the Temple after its destruction. It is not a sacred holiday that is found in the Torah or Bible. It is not like Christmas. It is observed by the lighting of the menorah to remind us of the oil that lasted for 8 nights. The real traditions include the lighting of the menorah and eating foods that are fried in oil like latkes and jelly filled doughnuts.
The original festival had nothing to do with gifts. This occurred much later in Europe when the idea of exchanging gelt (a bit of money, a coin) was introduced. Then, as with most “holidays”, we found a way to commercialize Hanukkah. Thus, the eight nights of gift giving was born.
I had a hard time over the years with the idea of this gift giving tradition. So, I did what I could to meld the two and they have not changed much over the years. Since the twins were little, we took each of the eight nights and created a theme. However, over the past 22 years, the gifts may be less. Mostly because I hear, “Hey mom, I really don’t need pajamas this year”.
So, if you are celebrating Hanukkah, here are my ideas for your inspiration. They just might help our friends that celebrate Christmas, too!
Eight Nights of Hanukkah Gifts
This a box filled with all you need for Hanukkah. Over the years, the contents of the box has changed based on something new on the market. When the twins were freshmen in college, the box included an electric menorah for their dorm room. The staples are always chocolate gelt, a new dreidel, Hanukkah cookies, stickers, and then other fun Hanukkah finds.
The Gift of Giving
Since the twins were born, one night has always been about giving back to something that is meaningful to them. Yes, when they were little they had no clue, but for example, our kids were preemies and sick when they were born. We had no money, my husband was a PhD student, and I was working in the non-profit world. So, for us this was a very special gift.
We gave back to the Visiting Nurse Association which was so vital to our lives that first year. Without the Visiting Nurses coming to our home every day – when we took the twins home at 11 days only and under four pounds – they would have been in the hospital for weeks and weeks. It was not a large donation, but it was what we could give in the twins’ names.
Over the years, the twins have made some decisions and some years they asked us to decide. But the one constant was that it always applied to their lives at that time. Over the years, we have anonymously paid for dance classes for families struggling when my daughter was dancing. We bought all the supplies for a student to do a study abroad and most recently, we picked up the shopping list for a Youth Emergency Service organization and bought all that they needed.
Books and Pajamas
This is pretty basic; a good book and a cozy pair of pajamas. Yes, there have been years that the twins have said they have enough pajamas, so we may substitute socks, a scarf, or other clothing items they may need. If you would like to expand on this gift, you can always do a book of-the-month club.
We are a big game-playing family. Yes, we have our favorites like Sequence, Blokus, and Rack-O, but each year we try to find a new game. When the twins were at home, this was one game for the family to share. When they went off to college, everyone got a game. Some years it has been as simple as a new deck of cards or a set of dominoes.
The Useful Gift
Yes, it may be boring, but…The useful gift is something the twins need or want. Over the years, the gifts have ranged from a stroller that we needed to a toaster or a vacuum. I have tried over the years to get creative when the twins have not needed anything and bought fun things, like a cookbook that they will have forever, a waffle iron, or a bluetooth speaker. The issue I have always had with my kids, which is really not an issue at all, is that they are not material kids and are minimalist when it comes to stuff. This means I have had to become very creative.
We all have enough stuff! So instead, each year we give the gift of an experience to our kids. When they were young, it was a trip to the theatre or maybe a rock climbing day. Yes, these were things that we would do anyway, but we classified one as a Hanukkah gift. If you were to ask my kids what they got for Hanukkah, they would rattle off the experiences even if they were not going to enjoy it until months later.
The year the twins were seniors in high school, we gave them a trip together to Europe for graduation. That same year for Hanukkah, we gave them a National Geographic trip to India together to add on to their Europe trip.
Exchange With Each Other
Eight nights is a lot! A lot of thinking, a lot of stuff, and just plain old a lot. Since the twins could walk and talk, we have always encouraged them to buy a little something for each other. Yes, when they were young, we helped, but one night has always been dedicated not to us giving them gifts, but to them exchanging with each other.
Just a Gift
And on the eighth night we just exchanged gifts. Not sure how else to explain this, but it is a gift that during the year we have found and held on to so that we would have it. Sometimes my husband found this gift, sometimes my kids would give us a hint, or it was something we noticed they were interested in. I will admit when the kids were little and lots of friends and family sent gifts, we saved the eighth night for opening the gifts from others.
Gift giving can be fun, but it can be stressful, too. Take the stress out of it by setting up expectations that are real!
Do you have any Hanukkah traditions?
I am a home cook that does things my way. In my kitchen, I make breakfast, pack lunches, prepare snacks, and cook dinner. During the week, we eat real food that is homemade, organic, and local. On the weekends we do explore more of our local restaurants. I bake my own bread, juice fresh oranges every other day, and make my own kombucha and other weekly favorites.