Growing up, my friends (who were almost all Christian) would always tell me how lucky I was to be Jewish because I got 8 days of presents, and they only got one day. Well, my friends, maybe it was the thriftiness of my parents or the fact that Chanukkah is really not that big of a holiday in the Jewish faith, but my 8 days of presents were actually rather small and always included something that I already owned. Let me explain.
Chanukkah is the celebration of the Miracle of Lights (the oil in the destructed ancient Temple lasted 8 days when it should have burned out after only one day). It is, like most Jewish holidays, marked by time with family. Next week, I will go into more details about the traditions, but long story short, it isn’t really about presents. In fact, I’m sure presents were brought into the picture because of the proximity to Christmas.
That being said, there are some traditional presents and decorations that you can expect at my family’s Chanukkah celebrations. These will be passed down to my twins as well.
1. A MENORAH: My dad likes to collect menorahs (or hanukkiahs, as it is more correctly known), so each year it was a gift to the family to get a new menorah. I love the selections of children’s menorahs at Menorah.com!
2. DREIDELS: On some special years, my parents gifted me a dreidel. Sometimes it was a plastic one filled with chocolate and others it was a wooden one. One of my favorites was a wooden dreidel from Israel, because it actually has different Hebrew letters on it than the ones made for non-Israel countries.
3. GELT: Chocolate-covered coins are a delicious tradition to use during the dreidel game, but you have to be quick to play with them, or you will only have the metal wrappers left over.
4. SOCKS: While it started as a joke, as I got older, I loved getting a pair of socks one of the nights: practical and warm!
5. A RE-GIFTED ITEM: Along with the practical socks, I have ALWAYS gotten something from my closet or bedroom, wrapped up and given as if it were something new. I absolutely LOVE this tradition, as it reminds us to appreciate what we already have (and it’s usually something I forgot I owned, and I can fall in love with it again).
6. MONEY: Numerology is very important in traditional Judaism, and certain numbers mean certain things. Money, while not fun like a toy, is an incredible teaching tool. In fact, as Audrey and David get older, I plan on using it to help us to teach about giving part of our money to charity (tzedakah).
7. JEWELRY or ITEM FOR THE HOME: As I became a teenager, my parents often had my one “big” Chanukkah gift be a piece of Jewish jewelry, whether that was a Star of David necklace or one with a gem stone from Israel. As I grew into adulthood, my parents often did something else that was for my home: my own set of Shabbat candlesticks, or a Kiddush cup (the wine goblet), or a mezzuzah (the blessing scroll holder that sits on the door frame of our house).
8. SOMETHING FUN: Now, with those other traditional gifts, I also received something fun, whether it was a game, a toy, or something else seemingly frivolous. After all, Jewish children can get toys too!
9. PLANTING A TREE: While it doesn’t seem like a typical gift, it is very traditional (at least at my childhood congregation) to donate money to have a tree planted in Israel under the recipient’s name. I actually loved this, as a child, to think that somewhere in Israel there was a forest of trees that had my name on it (along with all of my Jewish friends).
10. FOOD MADE WITH OIL: In order to celebrate the oil lasting for 8 days, this is one of the holidays where diets go out the window. You are encouraged to eat, make, and give food that is soaked in oil: latkes (potato pancakes), donuts, cakes, and cookies.
Make sure to check out my post next week about being Jewish, having children, and navigating through the Christmas season.