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By: Ellen Geller Kamaras

Have your children been counting down the days to Hanukah?

I imagine the answer is a resounding YES!

Have you thought about the message you want to send to your children as you celebrate the holiday together?  Or are you in automatic Hanukah mode, planning a party, worrying about the menu, the gifts to buy, and how you are going to do it all?

Please pause and take a deep breath!  Our ancestors didn’t intend for Hanukah to be a financially demanding or stressful holiday.

Let’s partner to ensure Hanukah is not a fiscal and emotional burden, or is only about the Hanukah presents or doughnuts.  Instead, let’s plan and enjoy what I call a back to basics Hanukah.

What is a back to basics Hanukah?  It is about getting back to the roots and true meaning of Hanukah and adding some new sparks to our celebration each year!  After all, Hanukah is the Festival of Lights – we want to illuminate and share our pride in being Jewish.  The Maccabees held on tight to their Jewish heritage.  That is the legacy we want to impart and pass on to the next generation.

Hanukah started out as a holiday celebrating anti-assimilation.  The Maccabees refused to assimilate and adopt the practices of their Syrian-Greek rulers.  In subsequent centuries, Hanukah was celebrated by lighting candles, eating special foods fried with oil, and giving children gelt for playing games such as dreidel. Gift-giving didn’t take place, houses weren’t decorated for Hanukah, and greeting cards weren’t distributed.

As parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, we have the responsibility of safeguarding the true meaning of Hanukah.  Let’s shift our mindset from buying gifts to educating, engaging, and empowering our children in the awesome themes and accomplishments associated with Hanukah, the miracles, and the true grit and resilience of the Maccabees.

Our holidays offer us the opportunity to teach our children key values and mitzvot such as hesed, derech eretz, and how to stretch themselves, to work on becoming the best version of themselves and to achieve their full potential.

Let’s focus on the victory of light over darkness, good versus evil, the recapture of the Bet Hamikdash, the publicizing of the Hanukah miracles, and inspiring others with its messages.

Wishing you a joyful back to basics Hanukah!

Back to Basics Hanukah Ideas

§  Practice “Less is More” – no need to eliminate gifts entirely, but let’s avoid an abundance of gifts.  Let’s choose gifts or help our kids select gifts that are meaningful and valued.  Some parents ask their children to choose one gift that the entire family will enjoy such as a special vacation or perhaps something they can all enjoy such as a swing set or computer game.  Another mother uses Hanukah gelt to teach her children how to use their money carefully.  She gives each of them one dollar for each candle that they light.  She then takes her kids to a store where they can pick out their gifts with the funds they received.

§  Incentivize your children and have them earn their gifts.  Have fun with your kids while educating them about Hanukah.  My husband and I create a challenging Jewish Trivia Contest for our nephews and niece for our annual Hanukah party, and they are rewarded with small prizes when they answer the questions correctly.  They absolutely love getting the answers right even more than the presents!

§  Encourage and engage your children to create their own special Hanukah memories.  We have our own childhood memories of the Hanukah, now it’s their turn.  My cherished childhood memory is playing dreidel with my family.  Instead of earning coins when the dreidel landed on the winning letter, we used an assortment of buttons that Mom stored in a pretty tin box.

§  Ask your children to help you bring the light and joy of Hanukah to those who are homebound or less fortunate.  Teach your children to exercise their hesed muscles.  Can they donate toys and games they no longer play with or clothes that don’t fit?

§  Hanukah is the perfect time to encourage our children to discover their unique spark, their strengths, passions, and gifts that Hashem gave them.  The Maccabees are wonderful role models for our children to emulate.

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching. Ellen can be contacted at