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Hanukkah Scrooge

My children were subjected to more than one trauma at my hands. Here is one I can share with you: When they were little we celebrated Hanukkah with nothing more than making potato pancakes and lighting a menorah. There were no gifts exchanged at all!

How did they come to this shocking state of deprivation?

Well, first is family history. When I was very little, I remember a year when my parents (apparently unable to tolerate our sadness about not celebrating Christmas) let us put up stockings. Another year after that we got a present every day of Hanukkah. That must have depleted all their parental holiday energy, because that was the end of our holiday gift giving.

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Having grown up that way myself, it did not appear immediately obvious that we were required to make a big deal about Hanukkah. As any rabbi or Hebrew school teacher will tell you, it's a minor holiday that only gets so much attention because it coincides with Christmas (which as you know also did not start out as the major gift-giving occasion that it has evolved into in our culture).

Refusing to make Hanukkah into a gift-giving occasion was one of the few ways I could take a stand against the rampant materialism surrounding my children. On almost any occasion involving potential celebration (Valentine's Day, end of semester, a classmate's birthday) they received candy, treats, tokens and gifts that flooded the house, were often ignored after they were opened and required hours to "curate."

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The older two kids have winter birthdays, so they were already well-supplied with presents at that time of year, not to mention all the Christmas gift exchanges they experienced at school: Secret Santa exchanges, class parties, etc. The youngest had a summer birthday, but you know how it is with the third—the opposite of that old Avis commercial "We Try Harder." More like, "We Give Up!"

But really, did they really need more things? Did I really need to earn their love by buying three times eight gifts to make them happy? I said no. They didn't like it. Life went on.

Funny thing is that as they got older, and the orgies of birthday parties and school celebrations slowed down, we did start exchanging a gift with each other some years. Did they wear me down? Did I mellow? Who knows? As with most aspects of raising kids, we're all flying by the seats of our pants!

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