Gifting on Chanukah
I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed Gabe Kahn’s “Gift-giving isn’t a Chanukah tradition? Humbug,” Dec. 7). I saw it from all possible angles — as the mother of a son (now a grown man with children of his own), a resident of a small town where we were the only Jewish family, and a school psychologist. I loved the way Kahn approached the difficulty and his solution.
Thank you for a very enjoyable article.
I’d like to offer some advice on Chanukah gifts: When my kids were born, I insisted that we didn’t “do” Chanukah presents. When my parents and in-laws insisted on giving the kids something I told them either gelt (money) or a book related to Chanukah that they or we would read to the kids during the holiday.
When my kids were old enough to understand that they weren’t receiving what their peers were, we explained our reasons, namely, that we believed it was a Christian tradition and not our own and that we would make Chanukah fun and meaningful for them in other ways.
We decorate the interior of the house with holiday decorations, many of which the kids made themselves. We listen to Chanukah music and dance to upbeat tunes each morning. We read Chanukah-related stories, play dreidel, and complete Chanukah puzzles. I made sufganiyot and latkes for the kids to remind them of the role the oil played in the holiday. And we gave tzedakah in the kids’ honor to the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry and received a lovely eighth night of Chanukah certificate to place center stage, reminding the kids of the importance of giving (not receiving). In addition, we used festive Chanukah paper and plasticware and sang and lit candles together as a family every night. We talked about how thankful we were to Hashem for what we have. Instead of a present, my kids got a special Chanukah treat in their lunch bags. While the kids did complain once or twice about not getting presents, we told them they got presents at other times of the year and that presents at Chanukah were just not part of the holiday.
Eventually, as my kids got older, my kids came to thank us for NOT giving them gifts on Chanukah because they learned in Jewish day school that the practice is “chukat hagoyim,” an imitation of the ways of the Gentile world. So my advice is to hang in there and not cave to your kids’ peer pressure. Stay firm and establish fun and Chanukah-related traditions that your kids will love forever.
I was particularly fascinated by Gabe Kahn’s statement: “How can I deny my kids when virtually all of their friends, Jewish or not, are bragging about their massive haul?” Poor reasoning because the answer is simple, logical, and easy for kids at any age to understand.
We raised two kids of our own in a Jewish household with no guilt of any kind. We simply told them at Christmas, “It is a wonderful holiday, it celebrates a great teacher’s birthday, but it’s not your birthday so we don’t give or get any presents. Our party comes at Purim. Then you will receive and then you will give.” Our kids understood that perfectly well. They enjoyed their Judaism and we did not have to compromise our values for a bogus custom conjured up out of our own insecurity.
I think we Jews demean ourselves when we “hone in” on someone else’s celebration. Christmas doesn’t belong to the Jews. We should wish the Christians well and any attempt by us to copycat them at this time of year with a minor, non-biblical event is insulting and wrong. It is not, as you said, “a necessary evil,” in fact, it is not necessary at all.