Many of us struggle each year to relay to our children the deeper messages of Chanukah. Among the presents (that are so much fun), the food (that is so delightfully delicious), and the candles (that are accompanied by such beautiful melodies) – we try to instill the values of our faith and help our children connect with something more.
Beneath the modernized celebrations, there are ancient and enlightening themes associated with this holiday. We have tales of heroes, overcoming odds, and witnessed miracles. There are lessons of standing up for what you believe in, remembering where you come from, and Jewish pride.
The best gifts we can give at Chanukah are gifts that teach compassion for others, gratitude for all that we have, and the ability to find light in the darkness.
I have eight ideas for eight nights of “gifts” and Jewish lessons:
The role of light at Chanukah is a concept most of us are familiar with. As you light the first candle, take some time to recognize the light in your lives. There is much darkness in the world around us, and we can work to bring light to others. While you gather in the comfort of your own home, think of others who do not even have a place to live. Consider making a donation (gather your tzedakah coins) to a local shelter.
Rededication is another prominent Chanukah theme. As the Holy Temple was rededicated years ago, we repeatedly rededicate ourselves to our Jewish faith. As you recommit this year, extend yourselves to others. Visit a nursing home and light candles with the Jewish residents. Leave them a tasty treat and colorful pictures drawn by your children.
Rosh Chodesh (new month) begins during Chanukah. This is traditionally a holiday for women and a great time to talk with your children about the women role models in your family. Take out the family tree and rediscover where your family came from. What character traits do you think you received from your female relatives?
Do miracles still exist today? Spend one of your Chanukah nights talking about miracles. Perform a magic show for the younger children in your family. Plant seeds and watch them grow, a Divine miracle for certain! Read from the book Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart.
Every child loves a hero – and most adults do too. Uncover modern-day heroes, ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. Hold a family discussion about what makes a person a hero. Look at some of the Jewish heroes from history. Watch a super hero movie. Inspire your children to be heroic.
At every holiday, we have traditions – family and religious – that we repeat year after year. What are some of your family’s traditions? Create a new one this year. Chanukah is a great time of year to go through your closets and collect all the clothes you no longer wear. Donate your gently used clothes so that others may use them.
Gratitude is another theme found in most of our Jewish holidays – as well as in every day Jewish life. Chanukah is an especially important time to recognize all that we have to be grateful for. Do you say brachot, expressions of gratitude, when you wake up in the morning? Before you eat lunch? When you experience something amazing? Start a gratitude journal. Make a list of your best assets. Count blessings. Create your own prayer of gratitude. Write thank you notes.
An important Jewish value and one that is prominent during Chanukah is the ability to stand up for what you believe in. In today’s society, it is easy to get caught up in our lives, our troubles, and our busy schedules. Sometimes, we forget about helping others because we are too worried or wrapped up in our own lives. What are your family’s values? What is it you want your children to learn from you? Are you passionate about stopping world hunger? Do you extend your efforts in helping our school systems? Find a mission your entire family can stand behind and do something about it. Whether you decide to give money, write letters, or educate others – there are so many ways to get involved.
It is difficult to break our habits of commercialization. Our children look forward to receiving gifts during Chanukah, and there is nothing wrong with that. By weaving in the deeper meanings of Chanukah, we are giving our children life-lasting gifts of heritage, Jewish pride, and the ability to recognize miracles.