Chanukah With No Presents: A Report From the Trenches

By Alina Wickham
December 7, 2016

“On the first night of Chanukah, my mommy gave to me,” my oldest son began singing, as his younger brother and sister joined in the chorus, “Absolutely no-ooooo-thing!”
 
A week before Chanukah started, I informed my kids that there would be no gifts this year. Instead, we would spend the eight days doing good deeds.
 
We kicked off by sifting through my children’s mountains of books and finding a dozen to donate to the library at my son’s ballet school. No sooner had we arrived than a flock of tiny girls in leotards descended on our donations.
 
“They like what we brought!” my daughter beamed with sincere, surprised delight.
 
On our walk home, we passed supermarkets announcing a food drive. So Sunday, we compiled a bagful of canned goods and set out to make our contribution.
 
Monday, my son got up early so he could get to school and help collect donations for their toy drive. The next day, my daughter and I did the same at RSS, dropping off brand new children’s DVDs.
 
And… that was it. Those were all the ideas I had. Unfortunately, there were still four more nights to go.
 
Luckily, on Wednesday, my oldest son informed me that he needed a pair of women’s high-heeled shoes.
 
My son was playing Catherine in Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” And it seemed that his big, wide boy’s foot did not fit any of the delicate women’s shoes available in the school’s costume closet. So off we went to the thrift shop. We bought the high-heels and then decided we would donate the pair to the school, so that another boy with large feet may don them in the future.
 
By late Thursday afternoon, however, I was running out of inspiration. Which is when a spot of good luck came my way. The AVID Center, an educational nonprofit, contacted me to ask if they could use an article I wrote as a hand-out at an upcoming professional seminar. I said yes, and considered it one more mission accomplished.
 
Friday night, I volunteered with the CRS Junior-Junior Choir, where my job was to help escort a dozen 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds from the room they’d been practicing in, into the sanctuary, down the aisle and onto the bimah for their performance, without losing one. I managed.
 
So that only left Saturday. There was a strong temptation to repeat a good deed. But, I kept insisting we would think of something.
 
And then, literally as we were lighting our candles, a call came. There was going to be a test in my son’s class on Monday. 125 spelling words. The mom on the phone was desperate. Her son had lost his list. Might my son have his?
 
Yes! He did! Eight days of Chanukah, eight days of good deeds! Done!
 
And here’s the most interesting part. After the initial sing-along about my failings as a parent, my kids never mentioned presents again. Instead, they woke up every morning asking, “What good deed are we going to do today?” And at night those who didn’t participate in the day’s activity wanted to know how it went and what would we be doing tomorrow? As we sat around the Hanukkiah, we talked about how lucky we were to have everything that we do and about those who are less fortunate. We discussed what makes a good deed and how to measure whether your actions are having an effect. We debated the merits of donating to a large organization versus a grassroots one, writing a check versus hands on action, giving what you think the recipients need rather than what they believe they need; even buying a man a fish versus teaching him to fish for himself came up.
 
“On the first night of Chanukah, my mommy gave to me, absolutely no-ooooo-thing!”
 
I beg to differ.
 
This article was written by Alina Wickham and published in RSS Connect Volume 3, Issue 2.

 
A variation of this post first ran on Kveller.com: Parenting with a Jewish twist.

 
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