Chanukah is actually a minor holiday. Sure, it gets a lot of attention, if you can call it attention, in that it happens to occur right around the holiday of all holidays, Christmas. Perhaps it’s from years of “The Festival of Lights” being understandably dwarfed by the 24-hour a day Christmas music, Rockefeller-sized Christmas trees and a Santa on every corner, but there’s the distinct impression that Chanukah needs a marketing plan.
As the Jewish half of our interfaith family, there has been some self-imposed pressure to man-up to the holiday table and show the fun potential of the other half of my children’s genes. Of course Chanukah is fun, I say: We have candles! Potato pancakes! Spinning tops!
See what I mean? Hardly the stuff to rival gingerbread, the North Pole and a gaggle of reindeer dragging jolly old Saint Nick and a brand new bike, right?
Last year, feeling my feet to the fire of my own making, I upped the ante: You know, I cried out, Chanukah lasts for eight nights, not just one. There would be eight nights of presents!
“What?” the little ones cried. Now this is exciting!
Of course, you can’t get eight nights worth of great gifts - and still pull off the Christmas financial spectacle as well. So that means small gifts, every night for over a week.
I found myself spending hours each day looking for thoughtful small, inexpensive objects: puzzles, candy, keychains, nail files, gum, soap.
You can see where I went astray.
These small gifts were met, understandably with lukewarm excitement. And, with such frequent and extended gift opening, the materialism of my children grew, as did their expectations. They were getting restless with this Chanukah business - and with all the gum. I had to up the ante: Wait till you see the gift on the last night! I found myself saying somehow.
The last night came and went and I’m sure there was a Buzz Lightyear figure or a Tiny Princesses tea party set distributed. Whatever it was, the kids and I were so wrung out from all the prolonged gifting, everyone was just glad Chanukah was over. Plus, there was the marathon of candle lighting, dreidel spinning and potato latke-ing to recover from.
It turns out there’s a reason Christmas comes but once a year. This year, Chanukah will have a big kick-off and then will smolder slowly off into the sunset. We will focus on the simple beauty and meaning of the holiday, instead of trying to make it something it’s not.
I can’t wait.