Hanukkah, The December Dilemma

Dear Parents and Children,

Yes, it is time to start thinking about Hanukkah, and this year, because of our strange calendar, Hanukkah and Christmas occur at the same time. There are positives and negatives about this – for many “The December Dilemma” is rearing its head. How do we handle our children’s questions and desires (while remembering our own). This “problem” is actually a continuum – we all fit somewhere on a line from “this is serious” to “this isn’t even an issue”. Now, as we get ready for the holiday, it is time to plan so here are a variety of thoughts and ideas – all taken from others wiser than I am!

  1. Visit Christmas: Enjoy visiting your non-Jewish friends and celebrating holidays with them (but be sure to include them in your holiday events). Help your children understand by explaining, “when we go to play at Bobby’s house, we enjoy his toys but when we leave, we do not take the toys home; those are Bobby’s toys. When we help decorate Bobby’s Christmas tree, we have a good time, but we don’t bring it home; we do not celebrate Christmas. Let’s invite Bobby and his family for Shabbat (or Passover or Hanukkah).”
  2. Don’t Compete – Create Meaning: We do not need to set up Hanukkah as a competition or compensation for Christmas. Create meaningful traditions for all of your holidays. There’s more to Christmas and Hanukkah than just the gifts. Judaism celebrates weekly – make a big deal out of Shabbat!
  3. Talk with Friends: The discussion is more important than the solutions! There are no right or wrong answers on how to deal with Santa Claus, lights, songs, etc.
  4. From 40 Ways to Save the Jewish People: Educator and author Joel Lurie Grishaver tells the story of a college daughter’s talk to her mother: “Mom, I actually figured out that Hanukkah was one of the major reasons I never got  involved with drugs or excessive drinking or promiscuous sex. From having to celebrate Hanukkah when everyone else was doing Christmas, I learned that I could be different—and that was okay!”
  5. Hanukkah is a wonderful holiday to create new traditions: Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox, with her family, added new rituals and here are her Favorite Hanukkah Happenings!
    1. Art Night: cover the tables so the children can paint murals, make figures out of clay, make a new chanukkiah for the season, and more.
    2. Music Night: invite friends who like to play instruments and sing and have a song-fest with a little karaoke (and maybe a talent show).
    3. Tzedakah Night: do something for others—buy a gift to donate, go to a home for the elderly, collect food and deliver to a shelter, etc.
    4. Book Night: the gift for the night is a book for each person followed by reading and storytelling.
    5. Grandparents Night: a night for a big family night or if you live far from family, this is the night to call everyone on the phone.
    6. Movie Night: watch a movie together—pick one that can be a family favorite for years to come (and, of course, make popcorn).
    7. Big Ticket Night: the gift for the night is tickets to a cultural event that everyone in the family can attend.
    8. Homemade Presents Night: Definitely the favorite—make presents for each member of the family or draw lots to make one for a special person.

Hanukkah is a holiday with many wonderful rituals, and families continue to create new traditions to teach the special messages which are part of the historical event – a wonderful opportunity. What are the messages we want our children to understand? Despite pressure to conform, Mattathias and his five sons refused to bow down to idols. Being a Maccabee, whether long ago or today, means fighting for the right to be different and being proud of those differences. We also teach our children that being small does not mean being insignificant. The Jewish people have always been small in number, but we have always been strong in spirit. We know that each of us can make a difference in the world! And this is the legacy of the Maccabees and the celebration of Hanukkah! So let us teach our children how to appreciate their differences first, by teaching and modeling Jewish life and all the beauty of it, and second, by learning about others and then going home to what we know and love.