Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins this year on December 22. Those who celebrate may gather each evening to light another candle on the hannukiah, commonly called a menorah, play dreidel games, and eat festive foods like potato pancakes, chocolate coins, and jelly donuts.
And then there are the presents. The holiday has come to be associated with eight gifts doled out over eight nights, especially as American parents stress out about competing with Christmas. But you don't need to overspend to help make a memorable holiday experience for your family. If you think creatively, your celebration can be eco-friendly, cost-effective, but fun — and just as memorable.
Hanukkah is "a time to focus on giving sustainably," says Marion Haberman, a YouTube star at My Jewish Mommy Life. "In Judaism, the value of Tikkum Olam [literally, repairing the world] and taking care of the Earth is something that's really important in our home, and lot of other Jewish homes. I think Hanukkah is a really good time to talk about that, and to give in a way that echoes that meaningful value in our life."
That resonates with actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik, too, who points out that "in traditional circles, Hanukkah is not a huge gift-giving holiday."
Bialik takes a restrained approach when it comes to buying gifts for her own kids: "It became really fun to choose one really significant gift for Hanukkah, and then [my kids] get dreidels and underwear and socks. But again, we don't do every single night, so we'd space it out."
Here are eight creative, memorable ideas for how to celebrate.
Making a menorah out of an old toy is a great way to repurpose something your child no longer uses, and create a keepsake out of a special object, says Haberman.
In addition to a toy, you'll need strong glue and hex nuts to hold the candles in place, which you can purchase in bulk on Amazon for $6.99.
"You basically can make it out of anything your kid is interested in," says Haberman. For her 3-year-old son, who's "obsessed" with cars, she took one of his old trucks and glued metal nuts in a row.
For her younger son, who is 10 months old, Haberman personalized a homemade menorah by repurposing letter blocks spelling out his name.
Part of taking care of the Earth is giving back to it, says Haberman.
"Another idea I love, depending on your climate, is plants and planting," she says. If you live in a temperate climate, you can buy a plant to put outdoors, and water and tend to it with your child throughout the year.
If you're in a colder climate, try indoor succulents or a natural elements sensory activity.
"If you're giving to younger kids, that can be a great sensory activity, to play with the dirt, and other natural elements, rocks and stones. It can be a whole activity before you assemble the planted object, and of course, you can watch it grow as the months go by, which is always fun," she adds.
Gather blue and white sprinkles, Hanukkah-shaped cookie cutters, and a sealed bag with sugar, flour, and other necessary ingredients. Then package everything in a Mason jar, or for an extra fancy touch, wrap the ingredients in fabric, which could be reused as a headband or a scarf, suggests Haberman.
If you want to make the gift even more sustainable, go for more reusable items.
"Buy a fancy banking tin, and you could buy the reusable cupcake papers [baking cups] with silicone, and then you have a whole baking set that you can use again and again with your family member," she adds.
"Playing dreidel is a big part of Hanukkah, and gelt, or coins, is really the most traditional gift," says Haberman.
Giving your child their own dreidel, along with cute handwritten instructions, is something they'll have for years, she adds. To make it extra special, you can design your own dreidel, or even carve one from wood.
For younger kids, create a sensory bin that includes colored rice, dreidels, and other tactile objects.
The anticipation of getting a gift can be just as exciting as receiving one. Add a little suspense to your holiday by giving small parts of a big gift over the course of eight nights.
Haberman bought her car-loving son a big racing track and some Hot Wheels cars. Instead of presenting him with the track and cars at once, she plans on spacing it out, giving him a car each night until the eighth night: "The Hot Wheels cars are only a dollar, and he can still use those cars during the holiday, and wait for the track."
Start by printing out some free Hanukkah coloring pages online. Then you can recycle old crayons by melting them down to create new ones. Collect any stubs or nibs of broken crayons you might have, peel off the wrappers, and bake them so they mold together into new crayons.
For an extra special touch, use silicone molds that are typically used for chocolate or candy concoctions to create crayons in fun shapes. "There are also dreidel-shaped ones," says Haberman.
"I think kids really like this one because you can mash the crayons, and peeling off the papers is fun."
"For older kids, I love doing a pressed flower," says Haberman, who suggests using a flower for a tree or bush near your home. "You can place it on a nice piece of paper and frame it, and then there's this connection to your home, and where you got the flower."
For younger kids, a hand-print menorah is a sweet, easy-to-make art projects that requires just construction paper and paint. "Put two hands together and have eight candles, and you get the shamash [the helper candle used to light the others on a menorah] in the middle with their thumbs," she explains. The result is a memento you can keep for years.
In the spirit of sustainability, Haberman says that part of the holiday means taking a break from giving, and appreciating what you have. Taking one night off from giving can help your kids experience the holidays differently.
"We like to do one night of giving away. We collect old toys, and prepare things for local homeless shelters. During the season of giving, it's also important to give away," she says.
This article has been updated to clarify information about Bialik's upbringing.
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