CHILDREN HAVE BEEN given many titles, including “G-d’s Gift to Our Family,” “Adorable Leeches,” “Ungrateful Miniatures of Their Parents,” “Little Devils,” “Little Angels,” “Mommy’s Little ‘Oopsie,’” and “Tiny Miracles.” One of my favorites is “The Gift That Keeps on Taking,” and this particular title immediately had me thinking of the holiday season.
When December rolls around, multicultural holiday celebrations ensue. A majority of our country enjoy decorating their homes with lights for Christmas. To honor African heritage, the week-long festival of Kwanzaa is celebrated. For a very small portion of the country, menorahs are lit, latkes and sufganiyot (donuts) are fried, dreidels are spun, and the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem is commemorated by the Jewish people.
Regardless of the holiday celebrated, some families gather because the joy of being together is delightfully anticipated throughout the year. Others congregate because their tradition creates a sense of guilt-ridden obligation. Regardless of your culture, everybody has that “crazy uncle” they’ll be seeing once a year. While the specific holiday that brings people together varies, a common practice among cultures is gift-giving. Stores market the “Best Holiday Presents,” people splurge on gifts they can’t afford, and children excitedly anticipate new toys.
While gelt has been a Hanukkah staple, excessive gift-giving has become a new tradition for Jewish families. It’s noteworthy that such practice is by no means a traditional component of the holiday. Many families incorporated large Hanukkah gifts in order to assimilate to Christmas, the predominantly celebrated holiday in America. Certainly, the guilt that Jewish parents have come to master was reversed back onto them by their children, and the “eight-Hanukkah-gifts” slowly became a mainstream concept. However, many families (particularly more observant Jews) still don’t endorse Hanukkah gift-giving. Rather, they focus on the true purpose of Hanukkah: remembering our ancestral history and honoring those who came before us.
Nonetheless, if you or your “Gift That Keeps On Taking” wishes to indulge in Hanukkah gift-giving (or receiving for the little ones), I challenge you to do so in a slightly different manner this year.
I understand and am sympathetic to the societal pressures of holiday gifts, children’s expectations, and parents’ desires to please. If it’s your practice to give gifts, I’m certainly not going to stop you. However, I’ve noticed a trend where we (children in particular) expect to be on the receiving end of life’s treasures but forget about the act of giving to others. Such a mentality is a slippery slope away from developing what’s known as a sense of entitlement. To help ensure you and your child remember the Jewish origins of Hanukkah, and to encourage distancing yourself from any developing sense of entitlement, my challenge includes endorsing a vital Jewish value this holiday season; tikkun olam.
While tikkun olam, or “repairing the world,” can and should be done at any point during the year, holidays provide a unique opportunity. Many individuals experience isolation and depression during the holidays for a variety of reasons, including estrangement from their families or financial distress during a time where family reunions and gift-giving is the norm.
My recommendation for giving back is to connect your interests with your deeds. I find that giving to others in a way that’s relevant to my interests often has the greatest impact. If you’re passionate about baking, why not make an extra dozen cookies in addition to your normal batch and bring them to someone in need? If you’re into fashion, perhaps you have clothes hanging in the closest that you no longer wear or “grew out of” that could be donated to a homeless shelter. If you have children, don’t forget to involve them in cake-baking, searching closets, and the giving back element.
If you’re low on funds, tackle a bigger cause without money or material items. Consider discussing an injustice in the world with your children, significant other, or friend. Then, research the issue and find practical ways to help. Perhaps you’ll find an organization that started the work you’re interested in but needs dedicated volunteers.
By partaking in acts of tikkun olam, I assure you’ll get more out of your giving than the recipient of your deed. This year, I challenge you and your family to become “Gifts That Keep on Giving.”
Adam Chester lives in Los Angeles with his wife Kelly and is in graduate school working towards his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.