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Tefilin Barbie was created by Soferet Jen Taylor Friedman. She is available by special order.

Top Eight Chanukah Gift Ideas For Children
A Special, Meaningful Gift for Every Night of Chanukah.

-- Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston

Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday that is not even in the law but many children view it quite differently. They look forward to the candles, the sofganiot (donuts), the latkes (potato pancakes), playing dreidl, and presents . In a turn that would make rabbis of old cringe, Chanukah has become one of the most recognized Jewish holidays, not because of its religious significance but rather because of its proximity to another winter holiday. Those who are not as familiar with its true meaning equate Chanukah and Christmas, both now characterized but lavish gift-giving. The common Chanukah tradition of one gift for each child for each night is relatively new. This is a far cry from the giving of a few coins (Chanukah gelt), a tradition that came to America with Eastern European immigrants.

In a recent editorial in the international journal, Childhood , editor Olga Nieuwenhuys described the sociological meaning of childhood gifts in our society. Unlike gift-giving among adults which often involves an exchange, gifts given to children are viewed altruistically – the adult gives the gift without any expectation of reciprocity. As the child grows and the gifts become more lavish, many adults begin to question the wisdom of the act. What started as one of a parent’s (or grandparent’s) most gratifying experiences – witnessing a child’s glee with opening presents – becomes unpleasant as children expect gifts without needing to acknowledge them. The altruism has ended and the reciprocity begins. Especially as children become teenagers and begin to expect eight expensive gifts to hold their interest in lighting the candles, parents and other adults fear that they are spoiling their children. Unfortunately, the true meaning of Chanukah was lost years ago when the young child went from present to present, not knowing with which to play first (and probably liking the boxes more than what was inside). The lighting of candles was only a delay before diving into the bag of gifts.

Regardless of the potential pitfalls, Chanukah gift-giving is here to stay and, so, I have conducted an informal poll to determine the top eight meaningful gifts to give to children for the holiday. Please feel free to send me your suggestions.

For the first night: A gift of Chanuakah

Overwhelmingly, people told me that a special chanukiah (menorah) was their most memorable gift. Children love to have their own chanukiah and, as they get older, they love to light their own candles. There are lots of beautiful candles to purchase, too.

A close second for a gift with a Chanukah theme was a special dreidl for each year. There are dreidls in all shapes and size. It is amazing what artists have created. You can get some of the two different inscriptions: those from the U.S. have the Hebrew letters (nun-gimmel-hay-shin) which are the first letters of words that mean “A Great Miracle Happened There”; those from Israel that have the Hebrew letters (nun-gimmel-hay-peh) which are the first letters of words that mean “A Great Miracle Happened Here ”. If you give a dreidl, remember to give a roll of pennies so you can play right away!

For the second night: A gift of generosity

The vast majority of children in the world work hard in their homes, in the fields, helping families to make ends meet and they are not the recipients of gifts. Most children will be upset to hear that others are less fortunate than they are. They derive a lot of joy from the possibility that they have brought joy to another child. For younger children, this might need to be very concrete – choosing a present, wrapping it, and delivering it to a shelter or giving gloves or blankets to homeless people. For older children, they may want to choose a charity of their choice to which you will donate. Even cynical teenagers hear about charities promoted by their favorite sports star and feel good about supporting their cause.

As another idea, turn the tables one night: have the children give gifts to each other, to parents, to grandparents. Before Chanukah take time with each child to make a craft or shop for small gifts.

For the third night: A gift of togetherness

As the saying goes, “The family that plays together, stays together.” When was the last time that, as a family, you went to the movies or played a game? Make the third gift a gift for the whole family – something that you all will like doing together. Whether it is buying a new board game or something extravagant like tickets to a show in New York or to an Eagles game or a vacation, as long as the family is together, this will be a big hit.

For the fourth night: A gift of knowledge

Every child has a fascination with some topic and wants to learn more about it. It might not match your interest or what you want them to learn (sports, fashion, or poker, for example). Remember that children learn best when they like the topic. Use this gift as an opportunity to help them to go more deeply into a topic of their choosing. This gift usually comes in the form of a book or magazine subscription (note: this gift keeps giving every month!), but it could be a model, a craft, or something to build; a science, magic or cooking kit; or a musical instrument or music, dance, or acting lessons.

For the fifth night: A gift of labor

Here is a no-cost idea that kids love. Give each other coupons for “four hours of free labor”. Parents have to do whatever their children ask and children have to do whatever their parents ask, without complaining. Another variant is to give your child coupons for a “night off” or a “chore-free day”. Let them choose when and for what they want to redeem them.

For the sixth night: A gift of comfort

Who wouldn’t want to receive a gift that brings a smile whenever it is used? You know best what comforts your child. Some like something associated with sleep – a new, soft blanket, a sleeping bag, or a stuffed animal. Others might like a something related to personal care, like a personal massager, a manicure set, or new cosmetics. One young man said that his favorite Chanukah present was a beard trimmer. Others might like something as simple as a coupon for hugs whenever they need arise or the gift of “time” – undivided attention for a designated length of time.

For the seventh night: A gift of choice

This one is an all-time favorite. Give each child a night when he can choose dinner, either a special dish cooked at home or a restaurant. Have these dinners together as a family.

As another idea, give your child a gift card, a Visa Check Card (looks like a credit card – they love it!), or Chanukah gelt (money) and let your child choose what to buy. It is traditional to give cash in $18 increments. (Note: Eighteen is the numeric representation for the Hebrew word, chai , which means “life”.) Remember to include some chocolate Chanukah gelt (foil-covered chocolate coins).

For the eighth night: A gift of being a Jew

This year the first day and the eighth day of Chanukah are also Shabbat.

On one of these nights, give a gift with a Jewish or an Israeli theme.

One of the most creative Jewish gifts I have seen in a while is Tefillin Barbie. (see picture accompanying article). Created by one of the world’s few female scribes (soferet), Jen Taylor Friedman, offers this doll only by special order. Jewish blogs are abuzz with a range of reactions to this Barbie, dressed in the clothes of a Modern Orthodox girl – long skirt and beret – but also donning a tallit and tefillin . Responses ranged from "...seriously disturbing - like watching a car accident...disgusting" to "Finally Barbie has done something I can be proud of!" A number of small girls whose mothers lay tefillin thought that Tefillin Barbie was awesome and wanted one of their very own.

For younger children, an old favorite is a wooden Shabbat Dinner Set by KidKraft. The set comes with everything a child needs to play pretend Shabbat. For older children, particularly those who are about to go to college, a set of travel candlesticks or a Kiddush cup might be appreciated. Another favorite is a shofar . They are fun to play on the High Holidays and all year round.

Other, more secular Jews relate to non-religious aspects of Judaism – ethics, culture and food, Israel. Remember, we want Chanukah to have meaning for everyone, so use your imagination and find something that will cause a spark of Jewish connection – teach them how to make matzoh balls or buy a tree in Israel named after them or take them to Israeli dancing or whatever is their most pleasant, favorite Jewish tradition.

I hope that this helps you create your own, unique family tradition that your children will cherish for years to come. Your tradition should start each night with bringing the family together (if children are in college, call them). Then, you might begin by telling the Chanukah miracle on the first night and, on each subsequent night, recounting a Chanukah tradition or tale, followed by lighting the candles. You might want to eat a traditional Chanukah food or sing Chanukah songs and, if you so choose, you can end each night with a gift that has meaning to you and your family.

I hope that you and your family have a happy and meaningful Chanukah.

Previous Columns

Raising A Mensch Section Editor: Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston parenting @ pjvoice.com
Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston is a practicing pediatrician, associate professor of pediatrics and Scientific Director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She welcomes your comments, questions, contributions and suggestions for future columns.

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