The much-anticipated, much-discussed holiday of Thanksgivukkah has ended - and as you've probably heard, it won't be back for 70,000 years. I'm emptying the fall-colored dreidels from my Thanksgiving cornucopia, going back to sour cream on my latkes (cranberry sauce is fun for a change, but I don't think it's here to stay), and abandoning my effort to find the cardboard Pilgrim hat I delusionly imagined finding a place for among our Hanukkah decorations. Leftover turkey and mashed potatoes will be a mainstay of dinner (and lunch, and maybe even breakfast) for the next few days - but other than that, I'm ready to say goodbye to Thanksgivukkah and focus exclusively on Hanukkah.
But after all the hype of Thanksgivukkah - and amid the excitement of Black Friday and the remaining days of Thanksgiving vacation - it might be tough to give Hanukkah its due. Here are a few suggestions for making the last six nights of Hanukkah special - and for keeping the joy of receiving presents separate from the joy of lighting candles and celebrating miracles:
Gifts are for daytime. Not to sound braggy, but I think this may be the best Hanukkah innovation since chocolate gelt (though I will admit it is a distant second to that!) It has made all the difference for our family, and for those families who have adopted the practice. When kids receive their Hanukkah presents in the evening, it's almost impossible for the real rituals of Hanukkah - the candles, the blessings, the songs, the dancing (more on those in a minute) - to get their due. The focus of each night becomes getting a new gift - and the candlelighting becomes something-to-get-through rather than the centerpiece of your family's Hanukkah celebration. No amount of reprimanding, lecturing, or nagging will change the dynamic - especially with very young kids, it's just to be expected.
So don't try to change your kids' desire for gifts - just change the time those gifts are received. By letting your kids open presents in the morning - or in the afternoon after school, whatever works for your family - and saving the menorah for the evening, your kids will get the best of both worlds. They'll enjoy their presents, sure, but they won't be rushing through the candlelighting and the blessings in order to rip them open. It sounds so simple, I know, but it makes all the difference in the world. Try it; you'll see.
Make lighting the menorah a big deal. If lighting the menorah is important to you, it will become important to your kids. Set aside a good twenty minutes each night to celebrate Hanukkah with a full heart. Consider getting a menorah for each member of the family, and let your kids be responsible for putting in the candles and (with your help as needed) kindling the lights in their own menorah. After reciting the blessings, have a special Hanukkah activity you can enjoy as a family; let the kids spin around like tops to "I Have a Little Dreidel" (even big kids like getting dizzy doing this, you'll be amazed), join hands and dance around in a circle singing Hanukkah songs (or listening to the Hanukkah songs you've downloaded from iTunes if that works better for your family), read a Hanukkah story (Just Enough is Plenty; Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat; and The Runaway Latkes are some especially fantastic books that your kids might not have already encountered); or of course nosh on latkes or sufganiyot. And if your schedule or interests don't allow for cooking those items up from scratch? Frozen latkes are surprisingly decent (the trick is to use the oven rather than the microwave), and a box of assorted doughnuts or munchkins from Dunkin' will stand in quite nicely for homemade treats (especially if you get the maple-frosted, yum)
Do something Hanukkah-related every day. In addition to gifts and candlelighting, try to sprinkle the Hanukkah theme throughout the day. Have your child make a handprint menorah (the fingers are the eight candles; press the thumbs together to make the shamash) - or hang up the Hanukkah artwork s/he created in years past; substitute a Hanukkah story for his/her regular picture book before naptime; play a game of dreidel after school; or use Hanukkah plates or napkins at mealtime. These are fun, easy ways to enjoy the Hanukkah spirit all day long.
Think of others. One of my friends came up with this brilliant idea: One of her kids' Hanukkah gifts is a check for $18 - with the recipient's name left blank. The kids then brainstorm, learn about, and discuss various charitable agencies or tzedakah projects which they want to support with their gift. It's an amazing way to encourage children to think of others - and to share the light and the joy of the Hanukkah season.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Hanukkah filled with light, joy, and miracles!
p.s. And just in case you're not completely Thanksgivukkah-ed out, here's a link to my recent appearance on the syndicated television talk show Daytime, where I discussed guess-what? (Hint: It won't happen again for over 70,000 years!)