Gift giving is undeniably intertwined with Chanukah, and it is difficult (possibly futile) to try and pretend otherwise. It is a fun part of the eight days—whether it’s the receiving of a beloved gift, or picking out the perfect item that you know a family member or friend will appreciate. At the same time families are often looking for ways to capture the feeling of Chanukah without getting buried in the gift-swapping mania.
“Much of what children want comes from the media telling them of a need,” explained Dr. Bin Goldman, PsyD, a Teaneck-based psychologist. “It is important to understand the drive and the nature of consumerism. Manufacturers are flooding the media with the images and commercials, making people feel empty without it.” While many parents may already be aware of this fact, Goldman suggested they take it another step further and discuss the goals of marketing with their children. “Help kids understand why they want it, and why they think they need it.” This will at least make them more aware of what is creating their feeling of need.
Since gifts have become a part of Chanukah, help kids focus on the fun of giving, rather than just enjoying receiving. Maybe there’s something special that a family member has had their eye on and the kids can help pick that out and give it to them. The classic gift of a kid-made coupon booklet for time spent with a family member is always a heartfelt gesture. There are also many organizations that collect gifts this time of year. The Bergen County Chanukah Toy Drive is in full swing, and all the area schools encourage their students to take part. All donations are appreciated, but the coordinators have a list of specific items requested by the organizations receiving donations. Young volunteers can take part in shopping for items off that list and know that they have fulfilled the request of someone hoping for a Chanukah pick-me-up. Yachad, Friendship Circle and Tomchei Shabbos often have various programming or packing that revolves around the Chanukah schedule and theme, and having family as a part of these efforts adds a meaningful layer to Chanukah.
Families can also use the Chanukah time, where homework is often minimal and schools may have time off, to focus on spending time together. “Even families that are lucky enough to have large amounts of time with each other can organize a planned activity, in order to actively create time together,” said Goldman. Though it often takes some time to plan and coordinate, something as simple as a family game night can bring lasting Chanukah memories. “More and more we are seeing strong evidence that experiences, as opposed to objects, make stronger memories.”
Even travel can be a part of Chanukah fun. Expanding the thought of an experience as a gift, families can try to take a short vacation over Chanukah. Whether it’s the Bronx Zoo on a free Wednesday (weather permitting), Van Saun with their Winter Festival or even Kalahari Resorts over the Chanukah weekend (complete with Glatt Kosher food), partaking in a family activity can also be a gift for the family, where everyone takes the time away from the normal hustle and bustle to enjoy doing an activity together.
Goldman also added an extra reminder about the various Chanukah parties families may have over the next couple of weeks. Travel may not always be fun, but it is often a necessary part of Chanukah activities. Take the time to make the trip, even if it’s a schlep, because these are the parts of Chanukah that everyone remembers. “Parents should also keep in mind that how we speak about something shapes their memories. If we say, ‘Uch, another party?’ that is the sentiment that will stick with them each year, rather than appreciation of the actual event.”
As a final reminder, Goldman added, “Even if taking kids somewhere and doing something fancy isn’t feasible, give them something to build memories around, rather than just an item.”
Wishing readers a Chanukah filled with positive memories.
By Jenny Gans