Gifts, they can be so fun to buy and even more fun to receive. Although I am writing these words more than five weeks before Chanukah, by the time you read them it will be time to take out the menorahs and start polishing, while running out to take care of the last few gifts. No need to panic; we’ve got you covered and the fact that you rushed out to buy presents just hours before Chanukah? We’ll just let that be our little secret.
Disclaimer right at the top of this article: while over the years I have come up with some pretty great gifts, if I do say so myself, there have been times when I have really missed the mark. So with those memories in mind, I present to you from the annals of Eller family history, our all time best and worst gifts ever, which will hopefully inspire you in your eleventh hour search so that you can make your nearest and dearest feel extra-special this Chanukah.
The Best of the Best
Hands down, the best gift I ever gave my husband was both one of the simplest and the least expensive. When our kids were growing up, my better half would often mention that he would forget how young they were until he looked at their chubby little hands, an adorable reminder that no matter how mature they could be at times, they were still far from grown up. With that in mind, I picked up small bottles of colored paint, one for each kid, as well as an 8×10 box frame. Each of our older kids, who were between 13 and five at the time, dipped one hand into the paint and left a handprint on the frame’s white cardboard insert. Since our youngest was less than a year and always sucking on her fingers, we did a footprint instead, an experience I can assure you that she did not enjoy. The result was truly beautiful, so much so that 15 years later, my children decided to do the same project all over again, this time getting all of our sons-in-law and grandkids in on the action as well. The results can be described in a single world: spectacular.
Even that didn’t come close to the one we gave my mom in honor of her milestone birthday last year, which my brother gets all the credit for. My siblings and I had contemplated a digital picture frame fairly early on in our conversations, but I wanted something that would keep on giving, even down the road. G-d bless my brother who found a frame that could be hooked up to an email address, which meant that all of the kids and grandkids would be able send new pictures straight from their smartphones directly to the frame. My parents literally spend hours every day watching the pictures cycle by, one by one, and whenever there is an upsherin, birthday party, a graduation or just an everyday Kodak moment, they are never far from the fun, even when they are 1,300 miles away.
Looking for something simpler? Magazines are great, and because they keep on coming every month, they are the gift that keeps on giving. The same thing goes for any of the “of the month club” subscriptions from funky socks to coffee to candy to cosmetics to flowers to clothing, because the goodies keep on rolling in. And last but not least, there are so many incredible photo gift options available today, many of which can be ordered with rush shipping, so go ahead and print that photo mug, fuzzy blanket or wall clock for a truly memorable gift.
The Worst of the Worst
Without a doubt, the worst gifting mistake I ever made happened when my son turned eight. I was looking for a gift that would continue to means something to him as the years passed and ordered a beautiful custom rubber stamp with his name on it that he could use to mark all of his seforim. From my perspective it seemed like a great idea. It was nearly twelve years later that he told me how he went upstairs to his room that day and cried because he thought it was the worst present ever and really just wanted some Lego. So I did what any other mother would do under the circumstances; I went out and I bought him some Lego and mailed it to him in yeshiva even though he was already 20 years old, hoping to atone for my sins.
And then there was the thumbprint tie I made for my dad. Basking in the success of our handprint artwork from above, I came across a kit for making custom made ties. It included a navy polyester tie and five different colors of paint, which was perfect for me – one color per kid. Since the tie wasn’t big enough for hands, I had each kid stamp a paint-coated thumb randomly all over the tie, which we then wrapped up and gave my dad for Father’s Day that year. He actually loved the tie and thought it was a great gift, so what was the problem, you ask? Just that the tie was supremely unattractive. And being the loving zaidy that he is, my father wore that ugly tie over and over and over again. Lesson learned: make sure any homemade artwork is actually presentable before giving it to someone who may be perfectly happy wearing it, even if it is mega-ugly.
Sometimes it’s not the gift that bombs, but the timing that is all wrong. One year a family member gave us a nice amount of money and asked us to buy a gift for our brood. We thought for a while and decided to buy a Casio for our music loving children to share and patted ourselves on the back for coming up with a significant item that everyone could enjoy, presenting it to the kids on the first night of Chanukah. While the keyboard itself was a hit, the timing was not; after lighting that first candle, everyone was looking forward to a personal gift and something that involved sharing and taking turns was just not the right choice at that time. In my kids’ defense, they all said thank you and no one complained, but in retrospect, we could have given them individual gifts on that first night and the shared gift a few days later, and everyone would have been a whole lot happier.
One Final Thought
No matter what gift you come up with, and quite frankly, Chanukah gelt (the cash kind, not those icky chocolate coins) is always a winner, no matter how cliché it sounds, it really is the thought that counts. So at the end of the day, think with your heart and whether it is with an artfully wrapped present, a family get together or a big batch of fresh latkes or donuts with your BFFs, do your best to make everyone feel special as we light the menorah and spend eight glorious days celebrating the miracle of Chanukah.
Oh, and if there are any extra latkes or donuts? Feel free to send them my way!