Holiday Happiness Guidelines

Every year I advocate for memories over materialism. Be with the people you love instead of shopping for them. I always send you a list of things you can do with loved ones.

Take each night of Chanukah, and add any nights for Christmas or other holidays you observe this month and have fun with these ideas:

Make cookies and decorate them
Read aloud or tell stories (kids love stories about “when I was little”)
Play games
Clean all your “old” toys out of your room to give to kids who won’t be getting much this year
Write a letter or draw a picture for grandparents, aunts, uncles, beloved friends, make a frame and mail it
Do a craft – make marbled paper, beading, make something from bakeable play dough
This year I heard from Jewish Educator, Vicky Kelman, who has also tackled the Materialism Monster. She has a publication titled, Unplugging the Hanukkah Machine. Below are a whole passel of ideas she sent me; they are wonderfully creative!

Unplugging the Hanukkah Machine
A pre-Hanukkah memo to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and assorted kith and kin. For those looking for some new traditions to slow down the materialistic monsters that the “eight nights/eight gifts” system seems to encourage, here are some alternative models:
Schema one:
1st night: big gift night
2nd night: Mommy night (kids give gifts to one parent)
3rd night: Daddy night (kids give gifts to second parent or to other relatives or special friends)
4th night; poem night (everyone brings a poem -original preferred but not required – to share)
5th night: small gift night
6th night: gift-of-self night: anything from a hug to a promise for future help with dishwashing, homework, etc.
7th night: giving night (tzedakah; money or material possessions for those in need)
8th night: word night everyone brings a word to share or stump
alternate: sweets night ( a dinner made of desserts
Parents handle nights 1 and 5, kids handle nights 2 and 3 and then everyone shares in the remaining evenings. (these suggestions are from New Traditions by Susan A. Lieberman, pp 58-59)
Schema two:
1st night: Jeopardy game night: write and play a Hanukkah trivia game based on the Hanukkah story
2nd night: choose a movie on a Jewish theme, rent the video, share popcorn and candy, talk about the movie together
3rd night: book night: gifts are new books all around; set aside time to do some reading together
4th night: tzedakah night: decide as a family what to give and to whom, go out and volunteer at a soup kitchen or make a family trip to the supermarket to buy food for the food bank
5th night: baking and ice-cream night: make Hanukkah cookies or sufganiyot; eat ice-cream sundaes for dinner
6th night: craft night: make Hanukkah decorations or cards for the local hospital, senior residence or convalescent home
7th night: game night: each family member chooses a game for the family to play together
8th night: music night: listen to Jewish music, sing together, invite some friends over and get out the rhythm instruments
these ideas come from a flyer from the Central Agency for Jewish Education in Philadelphia)

More ideas: joke night (everyone has to come to candle-lighting and/or dinner prepared to tell 3 jokes or riddles; home movies night: view the “family history” videos; stargazing night: take a night hike and make up new stories Hanukkah-themed stories for the constellations.

So – you have the idea. If the concept appeals to you, mix and match from the above lists to create your own, come up with your own ideas and decide what would be meaningful in your family. If the kids are old enough, this is a great topic for a family discussion and family decision-making. Work together to create a schema that works for your family.
Vicky’s one caveat: you can’t break the “eight nights/eight gifts” cycle in one year. Make a three year plan — and have fun.
Vicky’s contact info:
Vicky Kelman was the Director, the Jewish Family Education Project at the Bureau of Jewish Education in San Francisco. She has retired but you can contact her at 

My caveat: Christmas is also hard to tone down or give up. You can try things out – no tree for one year or Christmas at Mom’s house one year. But talk over any changes well before you try them. Start discussing in the January before the test December. I’m here to be a sounding board if you need one.
Happy Holidays!