A gift-free holiday season

Has anyone noticed that I haven’t mentioned the holiday season even the tiniest bit?  I haven’t been purposely ignoring it as much as not really thinking much about it.

Usually, I’m pretty aware of the holidays coming up – I use the advance time to stockpile gifts for all of our family members that they’ll appreciate at prices that my wallet appreciates!  Sometimes this has been buying things at thrift stores or yard sales, sometimes it’s meant making gifts.  But whatever I did, I needed to think ahead to be ready.  (Here’s a post I wrote about my approach to holiday shopping.)

Though we’ve always made a very conscious effort to keep things simple in the gift giving arena, when you have so many children buying and making gifts for one another, things begin to take on a life of their own and it gets harder and harder to keep it simple!  (You can read about preparations for past Chanukahs – do a search for ‘chanukah’ or ‘chanuka’ in the search bar – as well as one of our favorite gifts of the last night of Chanukah that has become a family memory to be treasured!)  And of course we were living close to grandparents who were eager to come by with the goodies they had for the kids.  And even though the gifts we purchased weren’t expensive and were often things we would have bought them in any case, but saved them until Chanukah to give, there were still gifts, and it was hard for a certain degree of focus to not be on presents.

I think we did a good job of straddling gift giving and finding meaning in the holiday, but now we’ve decided that we’d like to use our recent move as an opportunity to reset our family expectations and focus more on what the celebration of this holiday is about.  So we’ve agreed to totally cut out the presents.

Tonight was the first night of Chanukah, and it was lovely!  Though everyone in the past had their own unique menorahs, we only brought my husband’s menorah with us (yep, the luggage limit thing again!).   We bought inexpensive tin menorahs for everyone; ds4 brought one home from gan (preschool) today, and he lit for the first time with us all.

The first night of Chanukah in our home

After candlelighting in front of the window that overlooks our street, we sang together and my husband and all of the kids danced (I don’t know why, but somehow I usually prefer to sit and watch them!).  After that, ds12 prepared latkes (potato pancakes) for dinner, while dh played Chanukah tunes on his guitar and dd15 played her flute – they started working on a Chanukah song that they can play together.  I was really glad we brought the guitar along!

Last night dd11 and I attended her school performance, which consisted on several dances and songs by the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls, followed by a one woman act, a play about the Inquisition.  Wow, was she talented!  I enjoyed it very much, and periodically whispered explanations in dd’s ear about what was going on.  I heard today that many of the Israeli girls for whom language wasn’t a barrier didn’t understand the concept of the Inquisition and the forced conversion of the Jews to Christianity, never having been exposed to that time in history, and weren’t able to follow the play.

That evening was the beginning of the active Chanukah season!  As I said, today ds4 came home with a menorah, a box of candles, and a dreidel from school, and tomorrow all of the kids (except maybe ds12, not so sure about his school) will be having Chanukah parties on their last day before vacation begins!

Thursday morning ds12 will be putting on tefillin for the first time and we’re sending homemade doughnuts and other baked goodies to the minyan (prayer service) that he’ll be attending.  Mid day we’ll be attending a bat mitva, and I hope that around 5 pm, ds18 will be coming home for Shabbos (after being gone for a couple of months) and bringing a friend.  A couple of hours after he gets home, we’ll be attending a local hachnasas Sefer Torah (dedication of a new Torah scroll) that will be attended by one of the leading Torah sages of this generation.

Then on Friday, friends will be coming from the Jerusalem area with their family to spend a few days with us, and that evening and the next day we’ll be joined for meals by a young family of four visiting from Germany.  Then sometime on Sunday a blog reader visiting Karmiel will stop by with her family and we’ll get to meet in person.  So we’ll have a nice full house to enjoy Chanukah with!

It’s really nice to see how the chief rabbi of the city has worked to ensure that there will be Chanukah events suitable for the religious public here.  We’ll be missing the puppet show on Thursday afternoon in order to attend the bat mitzva of a friend’s daughter, but on Sunday there will be an all day Chanukah event at a local park, and that evening is a special performance for women that I’m looking forward to attending with the older girls.  (Unfortunately, they didn’t go with us last night.)  There’s also an event for men the following evening.  I’m sure we’ll hear about more things that are planned as the week goes on.

It already feels like a wonderful holiday, and it’s only the first night!

What is your position on gift giving during the holiday season?  What are things you’ve done to keep the focus on things that are more meaningful, such as family time or spiritual traditions?


3 thoughts on “A gift-free holiday season

  1. Our favorite part of gift giving (we do SMALL – tonight’s gift was a bag of chocolate channukah gelt) is that I give clues on where the gifts are hidden. On the first night there is one clue. The second night there are two, etc. By the last night the kids are running all over the place trying to find all the clues, and I space them out so the kids are going from room to room. I find it keeps the gift giving “simcha-dik” rather than just materialistic.

  2. We also do a treasure hunt with clues, and have decided to give money each year, not gifts – so far just one clue each night. Adding a clue each night is a great idea as they get older! We go at the end of the holiday and make deposits into their accounts (and open an account for whoever doesn’t have one yet), and its exciting for them to see money building up from last year in the account books.

  3. For years we gave toys. But as our kids got older it was obvious that the kedusha of the holiday was taking a back seat to the goods. So we changed track and now we give gelt on the first night – $36 per child. They don’t receive an allowance so this is very special for them. My mother and sister also give them gelt. Each child has a savings account that gets “fed” this time of year. :) Each of them is saving for something special and this yearly deposit has made them very money conscious and careful about needs v wants.

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