Family traditions of gift-giving help shape our children’s values and potential for appreciation. While the holiday season floods us with marketing and merchandizing, and many of us get caught up in the buying frenzy, this can also be an opportunity to teach our children about mindful giving and generosity.
Let’s face it, as soon as Thanksgiving is over our kids begin angling for what they will be getting for Chanukah. As much as we like to emphasize the Maccabees, dreidels, and latkes, for most children really it’s all about the presents!
So how can we give them eight nights of gifts while still preserving an attitude of gratitude?
Parshat Vayetze, sandwiched between Black Friday and Chanukah, guides us into the holiday shopping season with a powerful message for us as consumers. As Yaakov awakens from his dream and sets out on his life-altering journey, he asks only for “bread to eat and clothes to wear.” Just the bare necessities.
So how, amid all the Chanukah gift shopping for family members and co-workers, do we impart this important value to our children? How do we teach them to appreciate what we have, and to understand the difference between what we want and what we need?
Here are some tips for reasonable gift-giving that will satisfy the gift-a-night custom without creating the spoiled-child syndrome.
Clothes. Kids are always losing hats, scarves, and gloves, so now’s a great time to stock up on some fun and trendy pairs. Also, now is a perfect time to buy those clothes that your child will need in the next few months anyway, and that you know you will be buying at some point in the near future.
Replenished art supplies. If art supplies — crayons, glitter, markers, colored paper, and so on — and other household staples are rapidly dwindling, now is the perfect time to buy a new supply and wrap it up as a gift. Kids will appreciate them.
Puzzles and board games. Make Chanukah the time to update your toy and game inventory. Remove board games that your kids have outgrown or that have too many missing pieces, and buy some new skill- and age-appropriate games that will facilitate great family-fun time and awesome game-nights.
Books. Help encourage your child’s love of reading by giving him or her a book on a favorite topic. After all, reading, more than any other academic activity, is directly correlated with higher achievement scores in high school.
Tzedaka. Giving a donation for one night can be a very meaningful family Chanukah experience. Discuss with your children how they would like to help others, and then together, as a family, choose a charity — something that resonates with them — and donate to that charity the money that would have gone toward one night’s present.
Spreading light through an act of kindness. On each night of Chanukah, we light an additional candle so we can increase light over darkness with each day of the holiday. Spreading light is a powerful message in the Chanukah story. We can teach our children to increase their light as well by empowering them to do an act of kindness on each day of Chanukah, thereby concretizing the theme of the triumph of light over darkness. For example, make a drawing or project and bring it to a senior center to brighten up someone’s day. Or give cookies or latkes to an elderly neighbor, or bring winter coats to homeless people.
Mindful giving. This is my personal favorite. Let the kids use one night to exchange gifts with siblings, and to make a gift for their parents as well. Mindful giving focuses our thoughts on the important people in our lives who will be receiving a gift, and helps our children experience the joy of giving, rather than just being on the receiving end. In many families only the children receive gifts, and nothing is expected from them in return. As parents, very often we say, “I don’t need anything. Please don’t get me any gifts.” We think we’re doing our children a favor by removing this formality from their to-do list, but in fact we are missing an opportunity to teach kids the internal reward of gift-giving — that they can make someone feel good and they can make a positive difference in other people’s lives.
Homemade gifts. Encourage your kids to get creative. Poems, stories, and drawings can be the best presents and they can last a lifetime. Homemade gifts, or offering to help with projects around the house, can be more appreciated than store-bought items.
These suggestions cover seven nights. That still leaves a night for that one special Chanukah gift of your child’s choosing!
I wish everyone a joyous, mindful, and light-filled Chanukah.