You might think I'm here to tell you to give fewer presents this year. I am, after all, the author of books that remind us of the simple pleasures, and suggest what to do with baking soda from the pantry and white paper from the closet.
Add that to the current economic climate, with nearly everyone still reeling from the almost-Depression or Great Recession and wondering if we're really out of the woods. It certainly would make sense to urge buying less, giving fewer presents to our children, and spreading charity to families less fortunate than our own.
Important points, to be sure.
But I've been a parent long enough to know that from a kid's point of view, Chanukah presents are great. Presents are wonderful — an absolutely good thing — and not to be messed with.
Still, the real essence of the holiday centers not on gifts, but time.
When I was young, Chanukah was the time of year I started to dream of snow — weekday snow, so we'd have snow days. Snow days are one of my best childhood memories. It wasn't just the chance to miss school; truth be told, I was the geeky, school-loving type.
It was that on snow days, time simply stopped. No one ran off to work. Lunch was made from whatever was in the house. We'd head outside, play and get pulled on sleds, and build snow forts and snow people. Afterward, we'd drink hot cocoa and not worry what time of day it was. There was no rush.
A Quick Sled Ride
Snow days are still like that on my block in Mount Airy. Everyone's out shoveling driveways and clearing the cars. One neighbor's driveway is steep enough for a quick sled ride, which kids on the block love, year after year, even when it would seem they'd outgrown it.
The kids pour soda into piles of fresh snow to make slushies. They scoop clean snow into a pan, to be made into snow taffy by pouring hot maple syrup on top. The minutes stop ticking in their constant countdown to the end of the day. We live in the moment.
It wasn't just because Chanukah came at the start of winter that it made me think of snow. It was that Chanukah had a similar quality. Time slowed. We lit candles, and watched the flames flicker and wax drip. No one headed out — not to soccer practice, not to cello lessons, not to tutoring or to work.
It was a relief from the unrelenting pace in which no one really manages to keep up, everyone insists they don't want, and yet still rules most family life here in America.
This year, I want us to dare to make time slow down.
I also want to return Chanukah to a spirit of real family play. After all, this is the holiday of the dreidel — a time for lowering our aging bodies to the floor to spin a Hebrew-lettered top.
I can't be the only one who remembers the year that the gifts turned to clothes, instead of toys and games. You'd open the present and think that the shirt or jeans or mittens were lovely, and say thank you.
You'd feel a sense of disappointment, though, because after you opened the present, there would be nothing to do with it, nothing to play.
That's the spirit of Chanukah 2009: family time and play. At my house, I want to spread out the "Go Diego Go!" version of "Chutes and Ladders" that my 4-year-old loves so much.
I want all of us — and not my older daughter alone — to become wakeboarding champions at the "Wii Resort," or "Bananagrams" whizzes.
And maybe, just maybe, if we're lucky enough to have a snow day and time absolutely stops, we'll even take a stab at the interminable and never-finished the Game of Life.
Miriam Peskowitz is author of "The Daring Book for Girls" and "The Double-Daring Book for Girls." She is also a host of the PBS show "Daring Kids With Miriam Peskowitz."