Making the Holidays Meaningful

By Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C, CT

It may already have happened in your house. The toy catalogs arrive. Commercials for the newest games, technology, and “must haves” are everywhere. Children concentrate on 8 whole days of gifts! As much as you try to focus on the meaning of the holidays – the giving back, the time with family, the historical significance of Hanukkah – it is hard to compete with the culture of consumerism that grabs hold of all of us.

Are you looking for ways to take back Hanukkah, to make it more meaningful for your family beyond wrapped presents and new products? Check out the following suggestions to remind kids that this holiday is about more than just new presents.

(1) Consider giving (and asking for) gifts rather than presents. Have an age appropriate conversation with your kids that gifts don’t necessarily mean tangible items you hold in your hand. Rather, a gift can be an experience, a memory, or a tradition like bowling or a visit to the fire station. Give a gift that promotes togetherness and makes memories at the same time like a membership to the zoo or a trip to an amusement park. Think about what your children – or those you’re giving gifts to – are interested in doing, learning, or trying. This type of gift, like swimming lessons or gymnastics classes, shows that you have a personal interest in their hobbies or interests and allows them to experience the gift over time.

(2) Consider a gift to share an interest or a passion. All children love individual one-on-one time with adults to engage in an activity set aside just for them. Think about your own hobbies and interests and how you could pass on your love of those to a child. How about:

  • Teach knitting, sewing, or crafting
  • Create a memory book or photo book together
  • Explore a science kit and conduct experiments together
  • Go on a nature walk, hike, or bike ride together and document your experience
  • Give a magazine subscription that conveys your passion and read together
  • Go to a sporting event, musical show, local play, or art exhibit together
  • Give a favorite book and read together
  • Plan and cook a meal for your family together

(3) Consider volunteering together. While the holidays are about celebrating each other, they are also the perfect time to be grateful for what we have and help those who are less fortunate. Look for opportunities to give back in the community and explain the importance of this mitzvah to your children. Additionally, children begin to understand community and the positive power of a group of people working together toward a worthwhile goal.

  • Model philanthropy whenever you can. It isn’t enough to talk about giving back. You have to show your children that it is part of who you are.
  • Look for local toy drives and collection drives like the JCS Toy Drive.
  • Call a local senior center and inquire about opportunities to have young children visit and interact with residents.
  • Check out jvcbaltimore.org. Consider being a part of community Mitzvah Day.

(4) Make Hanukkah a family affair. Consider adding a family activity to your menorah lighting each night. Here are 8 to get you started:

  • Make your favorite latke recipe and have a latke feast for dinner
  • Play dreidel or a favorite board game and have family game night
  • Rent a movie, pop some popcorn, and snuggle up for movie night
  • Work on a puzzle together
  • Experiment together with an art set
  • Bake your favorite Hanukkah cookies together or try sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts)
  • Light the menorah over Skype or Facetime and sing your favorite Hanukkah songs with out of town family
  • Have each family member share their favorite book and read together

Teach children that Hanukkah isn’t about presents. It’s a beautiful holiday that can be special and memorable for your family without breaking the bank. Consider picking one night of Hanukkah that is a “present-free night” and explore the holiday together through books, activities, and education. Remember that kids are happiest when you sit with them and build a city out of boxes, create a pillow fortress, have a tea party, or play a game together. These activities create memories and won’t cost a penny.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Hanukkah!


Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C, CT

JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200. 

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