The gifts that I am still unwrapping are the gifts of family and celebration. I recall how my brother and I would argue about who would be privileged to strike the match and light the candles in the silver menorah that sat on the window ledge in our kitchen. No doubt the argument would have lasted the same eight days as the legendary oil were it not for the insight of our parents, who pointed out that since there were eight nights, we could take turns. (Ah, the wisdom of our ancestors to have ensured an even number of evenings!)
Once the candles were lit and the prayers and melodies sung, we would play a game we called the contest of the candles. My brother and I each chose the candle we thought would burn the longest. While the candles flickered, we'd eat our dinner until we had our fill of crisp latkes (potato pancakes), tangy applesauce, and sweet conversation. We'd cheer on our chosen candle. In the middle of winter, when the days were short, when the dark descended early in the evening and lifted well after I had to rise in the morning, we never hurried the time we had together.
On Hanukkah, I heard the story of my people's determination to retain their identity in a society that demanded conformity. The Greco-Syrians wanted the Jews of the time to abandon their distinct culture and become like the Greeks in practice and belief. It was a misguided political effort to consolidate an empire by imposing uniformity. A group of Jews led by the Maccabean family revolted and triumphed. Through song and prayer, our family celebrated a heritage of courage and dedication. In those evenings before the menorah, I received the gift of faith by being raised in a particular community of faith.
In the Bible, the very first use of the word "holy" is in connection with a day: "And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it" (Genesis 2:3). Before a people were called holy, before a place was marked as sacred, time was sanctified.
What would it mean to give our children gifts of time, to teach them that who they are is more important than what they own? Shared moments that nurture relationships, confidence, and trust are a child's first religious experiences.
Beyond any material tokens of affection, let us give our children gifts of time, to teach them that who they are is more important than what they own. Shared moments that nurture relationships, confidence and trust are a child's first religious experiences.
Wrap up a gift of time--an evening for stories and family games, a day for learning a new skill in cooking, sports, or crafts.
Wrap up a gift of wonder--an afternoon looking through old pictures and memorabilia or walking outdoors to discover winters natural surprises.
Wrap up a gift of appreciation--hours for helping others, making food baskets, reading to the elderly.
Wrap up a gift of faith--fixed times for rituals, songs and holiday food. Faith grows not from explicit instruction but from the touch, sounds and taste with which we grow comfortable.
As I look back over Hanukkahs past, these are the gifts I remember. What will we give that our families will remember? At a time when television tells us that everyone wants to be a millionaire, let us unwrap with our children and loved ones gifts of time and wonder, gifts of appreciation and faith, gifts of the heart.