Another holiday season will soon be upon us, and we can expect the onslaught of advertisements from both Jewish and non-Jewish stores, bombarding us with much needed advice on just which perfect gift you must purchase for your loved ones. I know quite a few grandmothers who have been gift shopping for months.
There is, however, one thing we should pause to consider. We are all aware that giving gifts for Chanukah is not actually a Jewish custom, right? Jews give Chanukah gelt, which is money, not presents, as a reward for learning Torah. So why are all the Jewish mommies lining up to buy everyone and anyone just the perfect thing to say “I Love You,” or “Thank You,” or “Best Boss Ever”?
Listen, I know all about it. It’s hard to fight the Western culture that has indoctrinated the habit of gift giving even amongst those of us who know better. Truthfully, even I have fallen into the non-admirable habit of giving small gifts to my children every night of Chanukah. We’ve created this tradition of lighting the menorah, singing our songs, and then bringing out the grab bag. My kids gather around, stick their hands in and pull out some shiny and wrapped thing-a-ma-jig. It’s fun for everyone, but I gotta admit, it’s not that different from gathering around the great big tree and ripping open wrapped presents with your name on it.
There has to be a better way, and this year, with the rare occasion of Chanukah coinciding with Thanksgiving, the season of giving thanks and appreciating all the bounty we have been granted, gives us just the opportunity to learn a different type of lesson from the culture that surrounds us.
Perhaps we can teach our children to give, instead of take. This trait of giving to others will not just avoid turning them into spoiled brats, but will also teach them how to become contributing members of the community, something we all want for our children.
Here’s a few ideas to help teach your children to give to others:
Encourage them to give some of their Chanukah gelt to the tzedekah of their choice, even, and perhaps especially, their school as an acknowledgement of how much the administration and teachers do for them. If the traditional tithe of ten percent is too much for them to give away, allow them to choose how much they are willing to donate.
Let them choose one or more of their gifts to give to children in need. There are many organizations that collect new or gently used toys for needy children and a quick Google search will give you a whole list of options you and your child can choose from.
Instead of gift giving every night, perhaps the family can do an activity that involves some type of chesed, such as helping pack boxes for Tomchei Shabbos or visiting a relative.
Because it is always fun to receive some type of gift, children and parents can give each other hand-made cards detailing some type of favor they will do for each other for a specified amount of time. For example, a husband can offer to take care of the baby overnight (a gift worth its weight in gold!) or children can offer to do each other’s chores for a week. Mommy can offer to make a child’s favorite brownies, or promise a trip to the library, just the two of them. Children can offer to let Mommy and Daddy sleep in on Shabbos morning, and an older child can offer to make dinner for the family. The options are endless, so let your kids get creative. These “gift-cards” do not need to be limited to immediate family members. A niece can offer to babysit her cousins, and nephews can offer to blow the leaves out of the yards or shovel snow as needed. Decorate the cards with glitter and stickers, and I promise those cards will be treasured for longer than the typical scarf or talking teddy bear.
By teaching our children to appreciate what they have and what they can give to others in more than just a materialistic way, they will have the tools to grow into sensitive, caring, successful adults.