Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Just like the turkey-themed paper plates disappear from the shelves of big box stores, to be replaced by red and green themed paper plates, and the drum beat of shop-till-you-drop-for-the-ones-you-love gets turned up to a blaring level, many Jews feel the need to begin their Chanukah shopping months in advance, to make sure they have enough time to hand out gifts to every one they have ever interacted with. Some take the Adam Sandler song literally, and give their children gifts for eight crazy nights, often increasing the value of the gift each night, all to ensure their children lack for naught.

In our household, we do things differently. I prefer giving gifts of time, such as offering to babysit for a sister, bake a favorite cake for a child, or make a photo album for an aunt.

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In the past, I have done this on a individual basis. I gave each child and loved one his or her own gift of time, based on age and preferences. However, this year, I decided to do something different.

I am a huge fan of shared family experiences, feeling strongly that it is an investment in time and money that lasts a lifetime, whether it be Sunday trips or family vacations. Laughter and great memories can be generated for little to no money, and those memories last longer and create more loving feelings than any trendy gadget could possible achieve.

Therefore, this year, to celebrate Chanukah, we’ve decided to combine the two ideas and create a family grab bag of gifts of time.

This is how it will work:

The whole family will sit down and everyone, children and parents alike, will recommend different things they want to do. There will be no limit placed on these ideas as long as everyone, regardless of age, can participate. In our house these ideas included: story-time in Mommy’s bed, marshmallows by the fireplace, making popcorn, playing a game (Ticket to Ride and Rummy Q are popular with the whole family and doesn’t put Mommy to sleep), building a puzzle, making arts ‘n crafts, buying a special Chanukah theme game, going to a non-neighborhood park, using public transportation to go somewhere, baking and shaping Chanukah cookies, making our own Chanukah gingerbread house and having a dance party.

Then, all the activities on separate pieces of paper and place them in a bag. Every night, after candle lighting and singing, one child will have a turn to blindly pick a paper from the bag. The next night a different child will have a chance to pick an activity from the bag, and so on and so forth. The rule is, the activity that is picked for that night is the activity that is done, either that night or the next day. Everyone must commit to participate in every activity, even if it is not his or her favorite activity to do.

At the end of the eight nights, every child will have had at least one turn, and all the activities will have been experienced, with much merriment, but minimal cost, incurred.

Count the money you saved and put it towards the next family trip!

Grab bags with gifts of time is a great way to encourage your family to enjoy Chanukah in a non-materialistic manner, while learning to enjoy spending time with each other. You will be calm and serene by avoiding being weighed down with unnecessary planning, shopping and wrapping, and not needing to deal with the inevitable fights and fits of jealously, not to mention the cleanup from all the wrapping papers and packaging.

Enjoy the beautiful glow of the Chaunkah lights and, remember, the best things in life are free.

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Pnina Baim is the author of the Young Adult novels, “Choices,” “A Life Worth Living,” and a how-to book for the Orthodox homemaker, “Sing While You Work.” The books are available at amazon.com.
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