Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Simplifying Hanukkah

Religious leaders, both Christian and Jewish, get a lot of sermon mileage at this time of year out of urging their congregants to discover the underlying values of the winter holidays and place less priority on the major way we Americans mark them – the buying and giving of lots of stuff. This year, with the downturn in the economy and the sudden unavailability of additional credit, this message might actually be heard.

Although the same commercials are on TV as every other year – giftwrapped luxury cars and the rest – this year feels different. This may finally be the year when Hanukah can be – may have to be - about more than the presents.

But how can we make it so? With a little creativity, each of the eight nights of Hanukkah can be a chance to explore our creativity, fulfill Jewish values, and express our love for our family and friends in ways that do not require the spending of lots of money.

One night of Hanukkah can be tzedakah night, when the worth of the gifts that aren’t given is donated to a charity of your or your children’s choice. Perhaps spending some money to offset some of your family’s carbon usage also would be appropriate.

Another night might be book night, when a book of particular interest or meaning is given to each family member. (And remember: Used books save money and resources!) “Homemade gifts night” can allow everyone’s craftiness and individual creativity to be realized (and there are lots of books with ideas for simple homemade items for those who don’t think they’re crafty enough), and “cheap gifts night” can be either thoughtful or funny – or both!

In our family, we often give each other coupons for a service or favor we are sure to want sometime later in the year, like the ability to sleep in, get out of a chore, or even a “get out of an argument free” card.

Be sure to have some friends over for a night of latkes and song, fulfilling the mitzvah of haknassat orchim – the welcoming of guests. Or bring some latkes over to an elder or ill shut in, which is the mitzvah of gemillut hasadim – acts of lovingkindness.

One night of Hanukkah, of course, is Shabbat, and foregoing gifts on that night is an opportunity to remind ourselves that, even on Hanukkah, the best things in life are free.

And one night can (and probably should) still be “big gift” night, if resources allow. This year our family is getting a gaming system, which the whole family will enjoy and which will hopefully add a lot to “family game night” the rest of the year.

With a little effort, your Hanukkah can be about a lot more than the unwrapping of presents – it can be a holiday that is truly creative, participatory, and memorable. Happy Hanukkah!

Additional resources: Some of these ideas are similar to those in an article that Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox posted on the Jewish Family & Life website some years ago. Also, for more great ideas check out the Simplify the Holidays section of the Center for a New American Dream website.

1 comment:

Morah Mary said...

Thanks, Moti - great ideas! Here's another - for years my kids and I read a chapter a night from "The Animated Menorah." That became as much a part of our ritual as lighting the candles! Even today (they're in the mid-late 20's), all someone has to shout is "Let there be a miracle" and faces light up with glee. "While Candles Burn" is another good collection of stories. Enjoy!