Hanukkah started at sundown last Sunday. And you know what this means? PRESENTS!
Sadly, this is not what the holiday is really about. But because of our consumer culture, the holiday’s proximity to Christmas, and the pressure we put on ourselves and others, this is what it has become for many folks. Don’t get me wrong — I have no problem with presents. I like getting them, and I like giving them. I like seeing people’s faces light up when I have taken the time to find that perfect gift, and I love it when I receive something I would never buy on my own. But is Hanukkah really the time to focus on presents? In fact, is any holiday or birthday really the time to focus on gifts?
I would argue that the best presents are those that come at times when they are not required or expected. Think about it — what means more, when you get flowers on your anniversary, or when you get them on another day for no other reason than “just because”?
Growing up, my brother and I got two dollars on the first night of Hanukkah and one dollar on every other night. We also got a dreidel and a bag of chocolate coins. We were jealous of our friends who got a big gift or even several substantial gifts on each night. My parents pressed that presents weren’t what the holiday was about, and they did give us other gifts during the year “just because.” Some years we would get a bigger Hanukkah gift if the timing of them finding that great present happened to coincide with the holiday.
I want to pass on this tradition to my daughter. As a mother now, I, too, want to make sure I don’t focus on materialism, which is so easy to get caught up in. I don’t want to worry about what piece of plastic my daughter is missing from her life or what other mothers are getting their kids. I will not buy her something just because society tells me to. I will buy her something because I think she would enjoy it and it would make her happy. It may or may not be during Hanukkah.
So if the focus of the holiday is not presents, what is it?
Hanukkah falls in the middle of literally the darkest time of the year. It has started to get cold, daylight hours are at their lowest, and New Englanders are bracing themselves for a cold, snowy winter. Each night we light the candles, and we add more and more light to the menorah, until, on the last night, we have nine beautiful burning candles. Traditionally, it is told that the menorah should be displayed for passersby to see. How awesome is that? Not only are we bringing light to our darkness, we are sharing this light with others. It is this value of finding light in the darkness, even if we have to create that light ourselves, that I want to instill in my daughter. I want my daughter to yearn to share her light with others through kindness, volunteerism, and charity. I want her to think of the miracles that Hanukkah celebrates and take that time to notice and celebrate the miracles in her life.
This Hanukkah, I want to be mindful and focus on presence, not presents. I want to make sure I am present in the moment, thinking of the miracles that have happened in my life over the last year. I want to consider the darkness in my life and in the world, and how I can bring in light. I want to pause to acknowledge and appreciate the many lights in my life. I want to take time to sit with others and really listen to them. After the candles are lit, I want to take a moment and breathe, being fully present and truly grateful for what I have — and not what I am missing.