Should Presents be a Part of Chanukah?

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Dear Miriam,

Chanukah presents — yay or nay?

Signed,

Every Jewish Parent on the Internet

Dear Jewish Parent,

I’ll admit, you’re not one person who asked this question. Rather you’re an amalgam of the dozens of times I’ve seen this question posed in Jewish parenting groups and among my own friends in the past couple weeks. Oh, the angst. Are we emulating our Christian neighbors too much? Are we trying to compete with Christmas? What to do in the families that celebrate both? Should our gifts have themes? Will our kids get spoiled?

I promise I am not singling anyone out or making light (Chanukah pun) of these concerns. They’re all totally valid and worthy of discussion. I am here, though, to tell you to relax. You’re fine. Your Chanukah will be fine. Your kids will be fine. If you’ve worried about these, or any other Chanukah questions for more than about five minutes, you’ve used up your quota of Chanukah anxiety for this year and probably next year as well. Please take a deep breath, admire the candles and try to enjoy yourself.

If your family likes giving each other presents, please, give each other presents. If you like theme nights and wrapping gifts for charity and minimalism, definitely incorporate those experiences into the holiday. If you’re worried about assimilation, but actually only in December, talk to your kids about all the different ways in which cultures borrow from each offer, and use it as a jumping off point to learn about your family’s traditions and other people’s, too. Do not let Chanukah be the only defining moment of your Judaism or your family’s priorities, and do not let gifts be the only way you demonstrate your affection. Bask in each other’s company. Eat a donut. You’ll be fine.

In my family, when a kid wants something, for half the year, it’s, “Maybe for your birthday,” and the other half of the year is, “Add it to your Chanukah wish list.” It’s not a perfect system, but separate from any lessons about the holiday, it teaches some patience and prioritization. My husband and I also exchange gifts, often wrapping things we would have bought anyway, so the kids see us being generous and thoughtful towards each other as well. Gift giving is ultimately a lesson in empathy, and we all benefit from more opportunities to practice that skill.

Whatever you do, whatever you give or receive, it’s ideal to focus on values of family, tradition, justice, peace, equity, etc., not just on Chanukah, but every day. Ideally, sure, but for many of us, we’re lighting candles at the end of a long day, the kids are exhausted and there’s likely to be a meltdown (and not just the candles) Do what works for you. Acknowledge that might change over the years. Look at the pretty lights. Sing the songs. Clean up the wrapping paper. You’ll be fine.

Happy Chanukah, and be well,

Miriam

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