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Not Giving Our Kids Chanukah Gifts

Not Giving Our Kids Chanukah Gifts

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Look, I like a good sale as much as the next girl, but my perspective has most definitely shifted.

It was just a few weeks back that we made our annual trip to Vermont for Thanksgiving. And since Shabbat now comes in so early, we decided to begin our seven-hour drive back home on Thursday evening.

At first, I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. There were lines and lines of people outside. And it was cold! I wasn’t sure what they were doing, or why they were there. After seeing this a few more times, I finally realized that they were literally camping outside, waiting in line.

We do not give gifts. I know: our poor kids. But trust me, they have survived just fineThese people must have either left the minute their Thanksgiving feast ended, or perhaps chose to ditch it altogether to make it to the front of the line. How ironic. On the very day dedicated to being grateful for what we already have, so many celebrated it by rushing to buy even more.

And don’t get me wrong . . . I have nothing against someone trying to save money and buy their children gifts or things for their households. Though to me there is something very wrong with needing to spend the night outside to do so, and then pushing, shoving or clawing your way into that store to make those purchases. Being that almost every year someone has been hospitalized, if not killed, after being trampled, I do feel it is safe to say that nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth that risk.

I guess this year these sales stuck an even deeper chord, knowing just how many people are currently displaced following Hurricane Sandy. People lost their lives, their homes, all their possessions in this disaster. I have friends staying in others friends’ living rooms. Not for the night, not for the week, but for months. Endless months. And so, I guess, in contrast it is hard for me to feel there is that much that I need. I have all my basics covered. There are things I want, but need is really another story altogether.

And this gift-buying follows us straight into Chanukah. Now, I realize what we do in our home is far from popular . . . but for us, it works. We do not give gifts. I know: our poor kids. But trust me, they have survived just fine. It is not that they never get gifts; it is just that we don’t give them particularly at Chanukah.

Chanukah is about remembering the miracle and how we were saved. It is about spending time with our family, and lighting the menorah, and recognizing that togetherness and acknowledgement are the true gifts in life. I don’t want my children rushing through the songs so that they open a present. Ultimately, I don’t want Chanukah to be about presents to them. And the nice thing about them not receiving gifts is that the next day in school there is no competition. They don’t come home wondering why they got clothes and their friends got iPods.

As much as we want them to appreciate what they have, we also want them to learn what it means to giveThey do get something, though. Every night they open a card with a coupon for something they can do with us. One night is a coupon for an evening at a cafe or pizza. One night is a coupon for choosing what I make for dinner. Each time it is something specific to the child, that will make him or her feel special and get some much needed individualized quality time with us . . . And they love it!

But this year, we have upped the ante. As much as we want them to appreciate what they have, we also want them to learn what it means to give. So this year, in addition to them receiving coupons from us, they will be giving them as well. Each child, according to his or her age, will need to commit to something that will help another. It can be a coupon for helping a sibling with homework, babysitting for someone in the community for free, or helping a neighbor mow the lawn. It is their choice how they want to help and what they want to do. And hopefully, they will experience firsthand how the most rewarding gift is not when you get but when you give.

In truth, we have just added to the traditional Jewish custom of giving gelt. The concept is that by giving children some coins, they will first learn the meaning of giving charity from their own money (as we give 10 percent from all our earnings to charity), but then they will also have something for themselves, something small, that they can enjoy. The word Chanukah shares the same root as the word chanech, which means “to educate.” Chanukah is about teaching our children how fortunate we have been, and how to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

To be honest, in addition to what I hope my children learn, there is a fringe benefit for me as well. By celebrating Chanukah this way, I will never, ever have to spend my night outside to get to the sale the minute the doors open. And more so, for anyone who really wants the sales . . . guess what . . . they are always after the holidays. So when everyone else is done shopping, that is when I can pick up a few things I know my kids will really love. And then I can dole out those gifts when they really deserve them or have earned them . . . not because they feel entitled to them because it is Chanukah.


Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Julia H Colorado Springs December 1, 2015

While I like your ideas, I always give my son gifts at Hanukkah. The reason why is because he gives almost all of the money he gets throughout the year to charity or he spends it on others. He's such a thoughtful child, I think he deserves something for himself since he is so selfless any other time. However, the gifts he receives are small such as chocolate gelt, new dreidels, and books. This way he remembers that the gifts are a token of love and not the point of the holiday. Reply

Anonymous July 22, 2015

;) I like the article. I always got presents when I was younger but now that I'm older we get more meaningful things such as rabbinic studies and things like that. I mean,it was my grandmother who sent the presents my parents give to but they give things that hopefully we'll care about in 20 years instead of just caring about a toy for 5 minutes. I really like the way you do things I think it's cool. :) Reply

Jane Kansas City September 14, 2014

I still think that Hanukah is a minor festival and that it should not be asked to compete with Xmas. I disliked it as a child; I still dislike it.

I agree that Sukkot is what really shines. It's not hard to build a sukkah. I am a woman & I single-handedly [my husband wasn't interested] build my own (often rickety but still standing) sukkah every year since 1970. I'm always on the alert for pictures to laminate or fruit or plants to add to it.

It's more fun to eat in a hut for a week & to decorate it Jewishly, than to find throwaway foil decor for the house, much less to find gifts that compete with the bicycle another kid is getting. I give the bicycle for the child's birthday.

But I admit that I gave my child a gift every night of Hanukah even though (or maybe because) he attended a Jewish Day School. I didn't want the other Jews to feel sorry for hm. Reply

Anonymous it shouldn't matter September 10, 2014

Seeing through my little one's eyes I was just reading this article and the comments and my son asked me about it. I tried to explain it, some of it was easy, some was hard to explain and to understand. He asked why people were so upset about Christmas, and he asked if people would be taking Christmas away. I told him no, and he told me he thought it was a nice time, and his friends would be so sad if it was taken away. He loves Chanukah, and he loves the whole season, and asked about people only celebrating other holidays, asked if only some people would celebrate Halloween too. It was so nice to see it all through his eyes, what made sense to him, being happy for people who celebrate other holidays too, and enjoying celebrating his holidays, and enjoying, truly feeling a sense of joy at others' happiness during their holidays. Nothing about different communities, countries, no judgments of any kind. That truly was a sentiment I think that can get lost in life, I was so glad he could help me to remember Reply

Robert Goldberg Bahia - Brazil December 8, 2013

Facinating Debate I commented last year about the(in my opinion) crappy position we're in having to compete with Santa. It still is not fun but as Ella said, young kids (especially those that don't live in closed jewish communities) don't have a clue. We can't be inflexible on high horses. Later on, sure Hanuka will take on a true and faithful meaning. But little kids don't get it. Not yet! And so this year again where we live in the boondocks of Brazil, we told our youngest daughter "America" of the Miracle of the Menora oil as well as the great victory of the Macabees. And yes, she got 8 awesome presents as to know in her 7 year old heart that the others can keep their Santa because Hanuka is beautiful, fun and yes, for better or for worse, rewarding to the kind who embrace Shabos, give tsedka and eve n at an early age perform mitzvas every day. Is this a necessary evil?I say nicht! May Adonai preserve, protect and bless Israel, the USA, the Jewish people and of course all good folks whatever their faith. Baruch Ha Shem Reply

Ella Scorcearoff Texas December 8, 2013

Dear Bronya,

The little symbolic story you posted for me resonated with my own conviction that Jewishness is "genuine diamond" compared to any other values. I was brought up on such parables, very useful for the soul of a child if he/she understands them. It's up to the parents to make Chanukah shine much brighter than the Christmas lights and to explain to their kids - through parables and much more - that all that glitters is not gold and what they own is superior in value. All along without making the kids (feel) excluded from the society in which they grow up. Some of the greatest protectors of the Jewish people have been "assimilat(able)" heroes... versatile, wise, generous, able to mingle without losing themselves in a world that may at times turn hostile.... I base my view also on the real life experiences of Jewish families from Eastern Europe. Plus: it seems to me that if rabbis decide gelt is to be given... we should ALL just accept that decision as the wisest choice. Reply

Bronya December 7, 2013

Dear Ella: No parent ever wants to deliberately impose deprivation on her child. But how to define 'deprivation'?
True life experience: years ago I would summer with my young children in a small colony with other families. In honour of Shabbat, I'd give all the little girls something 'pretty' - petty little trinkets that were worth not more than pennies. One week, it was sticker earrings - y'know, the kind that come in packages of a dozen pair for $2.99. The little kids were delighted...except for one little girl. She went home crying to her mother that she was 'left out,' deprived of what all the other little girls got - the paper sticker earrings.ng else instead. She cried. So sad. This poor little girl got another little trinket instead because...because she had diamond studs in her ears.
Yes, indeed, we sometimes deprive our children. We 'deprive' them in order to enrich them. We don't give them, sometimes, a 'symbolic' gift in order to provide them a truly valuable gift. Reply

Ella Scorcearoff Texas December 6, 2013

to Dom Re"idolatry" blame -- I've just researched the topic, it's important not only to all who abide by Jewish laws but also to educators. I found the explanation
at askmoses.com/en/article/700,19338/Why-do-people-give-money-gifts-on-Chanukah.html
"Do you really need an excuse to give gifts! Well for those of you who are too frugal to give gifts for no good reason whatsoever... here goes:
The word "Chanukah" comes from the same word as "chinuch (education)." The Greeks wanted to make us forget the holy Torah, thus when they were defeated it was necessary to start reeducating the (Jewish people, and especially the) children. Maimonides writes that it is important to use incentives in order to educate a child (until he/she is old enough to independently understand the importance and beauty of the Torah and Mitzvot). On Chanukah, the holiday which is dedicated to education, we tell the children: "Here is some Chanukah gelt, an incentive for you." (Rabbi Silberberg) Reply

Dom Orlando, FL via jewishorlando.com December 3, 2013

Gifts for Chanukah Dear Sarah,

I just want to re-iterate this year that I love your post and agree fully. What you are doing is purposeful parenting, and this requires courage and commitment. I hope you will not be discouraged by some of the worldly opinions expressed here. We know that Chanukah is about resisting assimilation and taking a stand for our faith, and gift-giving the way many are doing it is just an extension of the Christmas holiday, which is steeped in Paganism. The world will throw all kinds of rhetoric at us to defend their idol (spelling intended) positions. We must stay strong in our convictions...like Maccabees :-) happy Chanukah and thank you for your valuable insights. Reply

Ella Scorcearoff Texas December 2, 2013

I will address this point as "brutally honest" as you in saying that, as a teacher, I view your approach as wrong. There is a time for everything and there is a time for petty pragmatism, and a time for joy for events that allowed us the joy... and Chanukah is such a time. Children don't see the world like us. Imposing adult approaches on them will tear the veil of miracle that childhood is adorned with. Your kids will have a hard time explaining to other kids why they're deprived, and other kids would have a hard time pretending they don't feel sorry for your kids. Having grown up in Eastern Europe, I learned as a child the value of tradition and unconditional parents' love, especially during a time of collective celebration... anything misplaced doesn't have the same flavor/meaning. And how about giving them tiny symbolic gifts on Chanuka and the "smart gifts" afterwards too? Instead of making them hard-hearted (and perhaps spiteful), you'll make them sensitive, that helps in life... Reply

Dina California December 2, 2013

To Sara Interesting you seem to blame the people for camping out in a line. If the greedy store owners would not open on Thanksgiving people would be in their homes with their families!! Reply

Rivkah Huntsville November 28, 2013

My childhood Hanukah was a get-together with extended family and gifts for children. Not for adults. Adults gave, children received.
It felt like an impoverished Xmas.
They had a big beautiful decorated tree with many twinkling lights.
We had a little menorah with nine or fewer lights.

They had glamorous gifts.
We had ordinary gifts.

Their homes were filled with glitzy foil decorations.
We couldn't even find such decorations in those days, for Hanukah.

My thought was, Why make a big deal out of an imitation Xmas?
Let's make a big deal for a Torah festival, Sukkot.
Let's have big Sukkah decorations, a room surrounded by greenery, instead of their puny tree surrounded by a room.
And withough lights. Lights are for sun-worshippers. The Torah avoids winter festivals. Torah has festivals for spring, summer, autumn. We were wrong to imitate the Greeks with a winter feast. And on the 25th yet!

Rabbi Tzvi convinces me that Hanukah is meaningful in its very difference from Xmas.

Meanwhile I give gifts as expected to my grandchildren & my brother's grandchildren. Reply

Janet Aldrich Hamilton, Ma November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgivuka! In Plymouth Ma this year something special will take place. A Lighting Ceremony for Chanuka, with the Indians and the Pilgrims to Honor our beginnings as a Country. I am hoping it will be well attended and recorded for posterity. It is a first ever and so significant. We all need to be grateful for a Country that has led the charge in Religious Freedom. However, now we see the mood has changed and the pressure to leave the post is ever more pressing. It is always a living memorial to faith to make a stand. I pray that America will wake up to it's original goals and remember always to thank our Creator for His powerful benevolent protection on this great land. I am so proud to be American and a person of faith. I am so excited this is happening and will not happen again in thousands of years, can you believe? May it be blessed beyond belief and be ever in the hearts of all those who made it happen. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma November 21, 2013

Gifts and What we are Gifted This Chanukah is unusual in that we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the US together with Chanukah and it's very rare this happens. I bought a lovely gift for my daughter because it felt like something I want to do, and I will, probably this day, buy something for her husband and for my granddaughter. The others will be in New Zealand this particular holiday. I think it's an individual decision but always fun, to give a gift and receive a gift. So for me, it's not The Great Debate.

Love has many manifestations, and there are many ways to do, love. I think the important part is that spread, that Table, and it is, after all, a kind of merger, this particular Holiday and I think this is very significant. A sign. Reply

Jack Klein..Yaakov Ben Yoseph Ha Levi. Perth. Westeran Austrlia November 21, 2013

Chanukah Gelt As I understand it Chanukah Gelt is as old as Chanukah itself...Why do some of your writers sign Anonymous. Are they afraid to be known as Jews? If so why do they contribute to your web sight? Reply

Anonymous November 20, 2013

I think that having presents is an important part of Hannukah. Even though the spiritual part is very important, Hannukah is actually the least important of the jewish holidays. I think that people appreciate it so much because it gives them the chance to give and receive. Plus, you don't have to wait in line in the snow to get presents.
We just order them online, and get them delivered our house. Reply

julia australia November 12, 2013

Wow! Thanks for your wisdom.,Esther. Children ARE creative dreaming up new ways of 'gifting',and The idea of waiting for the after holiday sales makes sense.G-d bless you. Reply

ruth housman marshfield, ma December 17, 2012

The greatest gift I didn't give Chanuka gifts this year, and have no Chanuka "gelt" because I give all the time, as you do, in LOVE and that's what happens in Spades. So, however one does it, and I have no problem choosing gifts I know "they" will LOVE and do enjoy this, it's a mixed bag, and we do what we do, and justify it, and if we justify it with LOVE, who is to judge? This is my gift to my children. I am working hard to save the environment, the animals, the trees, the earth herself. I hear the music of the spheres. It's a singing universe, and I am going to Jerusalem to stand by the Wall and petition for a new Chapter, for WORLD PEACE. That's the legacy I want to give my children, and my children's children. A better world. And BET is for HOUSE in Hebrew, and I am totally following the Aleph.. the Aleph Bet in writing down a story, I simply could not have written. G_d wrote, the entire story. This story IS about LOVE. Reply

Froza NY December 17, 2012

Chanukkah gifts As we know chanukkah is the symbol of peace and dedication. Presenting gifts to kids is the most important part of celebrating hanukkah. I think that is most important. Hope you all have enjoyed with lots of happiness. Reply

Anonymous 60645 December 12, 2012

Lucky My parents were against Chanukah presents(not money) because it is like Christmas presents Reply

Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.