| Family Reflections |

Spiritual Light

There’s more to Chanukah than doughnuts



hild: Where are we going for Chanukah? Everyone in my class is going on trips.

Pick a parental response:

Just because everyone’s going away doesn’t mean we also have to go away.

Well, if that’s the case, we don’t want you to feel left out. I’ll book tickets for a trip to South America right away.

They’re rich and we’re not, so we’re staying home.

I know you want to go, too, because everyone else is going. It’s hard to feel like the only one who’s staying behind.

You can pick more than one. Which one or combination did you pick?

How to Celebrate Chanukah

Of course, you don’t have to travel to enjoy Chanukah. But children, always keenly aware of what their peers are doing, can still find myriad ways to fit in with their parents’ help.

Child: What can you buy me for Chanukah this year? Can I have that deluxe watch calculator everyone in my class has?

Child: Shoshi gets gifts every night of Chanukah. Can we do that, too?

Child: Can we have our Chanukah party in a hall this year? It’s so nebby to have it at home. No one does that.

Child: I don’t want jelly doughnuts. I’m only eating the caramel whipped chocolate brownie doughnuts we ate at Aunt Leah’s house last year.

Of course, everyone wants their kids to enjoy Chanukah. And everyone wants their kids to feel “normal” among their friends, cousins, and classmates. And of course, even the adults want to fit in with their peers and family members.

So if everyone is doing Chanukah in a big way, an expensive way, a deluxe, super-duper way, then that must be the way to celebrate Chanukah!

Feeding the Soul

Does it really make any sense that Chanukah, a celebration of true Jewish spirituality winning over the Hedonistic materialism of the Greeks, should be memorialized in our children’s minds as one of the most materially glorious holidays of the year?

Yes, of course we consume symbolic foods, and yes, those foods should be delicious so that their lessons will be literally embedded in our guts. But when passing the latkes and sour cream, are we also passing on the great spiritual victory they represent? And if we wanted to do that, how would we go about it?

There are eight nights of Chanukah, eight opportunities to spread the light of spirituality to our children. Some parents create family customs to do just that. In some households with young children, for example, parents buy eight different books about Chanukah for the kids to enjoy — a new book each night. Bringing the books to life with interesting commentary, questions, and discussions can be a bonding experience as well as an educational opportunity.

Some parents awaken their children’s souls with music, purchasing a new recording of Chanukah stories and songs to be enjoyed each day. Music and stories penetrate both heart and brain, fostering enduring feelings of warmth and Jewish pride.

When the kids in the family are all school age and above, some parents make Chanukah dinnertime a time of Chanukah storytelling. They can share moving, emotionally engaging, and intellectually stimulating tales of victories of the soul throughout our history, helping to inspire their youngsters with a trust in Hashem. And a trust in themselves to find the strength to do the right thing, to live fully Jewish lives, even in difficult times.

With teens, parents can initiate discussions about the meaning and purpose of martyrdom as they explore — through the brutally honest lens of adolescence —  the ideas and values worth dying for, what it must be like to pursue any level of self-sacrifice or self-denial in a culture that celebrates the physical, and how this very battle is being fought by all of us today.

In other words, with intention, creativity, and effort, parents can make Chanukah real.

Many parents don’t engage their children in meaningful spiritual discussion. However, failure to do so will leave some children with only the taste of doughnuts in their mouths. While fun, that sort of Chanukah misses the point of the Yom Tov and misses the opportunity for deeply nourishing a child’s soul.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 823)

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