Chanukah Dilemma — How Many Presents Are Enough?

Family traditions of gift-giving help shape our children’s values and potential for appreciation.  While the holiday season floods us with marketing and merchandising, 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 –  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 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 –  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 be needing in the next few months anyway and that you know you will be buying at some point in the near future.

Refill art supplies – If art supplies and other household staples are rapidly dwindling (crayons, glitter, markers, colored paper, etc.), now is the perfect time to buy a new supply and wrap it up as a gift so kids will appreciate.

Puzzles & board games – make Chanukah the time to update your toy and game inventory: remove board games 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/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 chose a charity – something that resonates with them, and donate to that charity the money that would have gone towards one night’s present.

Spreading light through an act of kindness – On each night of Chanukah, we light an additional candle to increase light over darkness with each passing day of the holiday. Spreading light is a powerful message of the Chanukah story— and 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 winter coats to homeless people.

Mindful Giving – Here is my personal favorite – let the kids use one night to exchange gifts with siblings, and to make a gift for 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, with nothing expected from them in return. Very often as parents we say, “I don’t need anything, so 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, when 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, drawings can be the best presents that will last a lifetime. Homemade gifts, or offering to help with projects around the house, can be more appreciated than store bought gifts.

The above suggestions cover 7 nights, which 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!

Dr. Tani Foger

About the Author
Dr. Tani Foger has worked in the field of education, both in Israel and in the US, for over 35 years. She is an experienced educator and psychologist, with particular expertise in special education, second language acquisition, student learning styles, teacher consultation,social skills, and parenting. She is the Founder and Director of "Let's Talk” - Guidance Workshops for Moving Forward and Conquering the Challenges in our Lives. Dr. Foger is a skilled facilitator offering workshops for all ages at all stages.