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Hanukkah and Thanksgiving Share Theme


We have enough trouble spelling Hanukkah-Chanukah, only to throw in another word scrambler Thanksgivukkah because the Jewish and secular calendars converge this year.  In the Hebrew calendar, which follows the sun and the moon, the festival of lights starts on the date of 25 Kislev, which officially starts at sunset before Thanksgiving.  On the Gregorian calendar, Thanksgiving sits on the fourth Thursday in November. The last time the two holidays coincided was 1888, 25 years after President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a holiday. This historical moment won’t happen again for another 77,798 years, so we might as well embrace the hybrid holiday by topping sweet potato latkes with cranberry applesauce and brining our turkey with Manischewitz.

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College Students Gobble Up Thanksgivukkah Care Packages


It doesn’t seem that long ago when my son Jack was in elementary school, and I used to put a Hershey’s Kiss in his sack lunch with a little note that said something like, “Have a fun day!” or “Good luck on your spelling test!” or “xxxooo.” That lasted about a week, until he finally said, no more embarrassing notes, just chocolate.

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Hanukkah Gift Guide–It’s A Miracle!

The gift giving season is upon us, and with Hanukkah less than a week away, the pressure to buy presents, bake cookies, fry latkes, plan parties, and decorate the house with twinkling blue lights and dreidels started before I polished off the last slice of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

Of course, the real miracle of Hanukkah is about the rededication of the temple in ancient Jerusalem following the Maccabean victory over the Syrian army. But the other miracle is to not give into the overindulgence of the holiday season, including spend too much money on material things.

I’m always looking for ways to make the holidays less stressful and more meaningful, and this year I want to try a new tradition that I actually learned from other families who celebrate Christmas.

It’s called “Simple Gift Giving.” I know, sounds like an oxymoron, especially when I’m used to giving a present for each night we light the menorah.

The idea is to have our children narrow down their wish lists to include items from four categories:

  • WANT
  • NEED
  • WEAR
  • READ

Obviously, it’s best to start this routine when our kids are in preschool and still get excited about footsie pajamas and a wooden puzzle. It gets a little trickier when they’re already teenagers and their idea of a toy includes WiFi and practical underwear comes from Victoria Secret instead of a Hanes six-pack.

Each year, families can customize the list to meet their needs, and I’ve already added four more categories to round out the eight days of Hanukkah:

  • EAT
  • PLAY
  • GIVE

For example, CREATE our own menorah; EAT sufganiyot  (jelly donuts); PLAY a favorite game or poker dreidel; and finally, GIVE back to the community, such as collecting canned goods for the food pantry, serving a meal at Ronald McDonald House, or hosting game night at HavenHouse.

How do you keep Hanukkah fun and festive without overindulging your kids?



Holiday Mitzvahs Top Wish Lists, at Least for Parents

As the first decade of the new millennium approaches (writers are always looking for a hook), I can’t help but contemplate how the wish lists of my children reflect today’s warped generation. Sari, almost 11, wants a cell phone. I didn’t own one until I was engaged to be married. Jack, a freshman in high school, yearns for Dr. Dre headphones that cost more than my auto insurance deductable.

Parents are to blame for their children’s spoiled behavior, and I’m certainly no exception, especially when it comes to high-tech toys. To start with, we stick our youngsters in front of the computer way too young, while they’re still in diapers, and we practically give them a username and password by the time they get a social security card. No wonder today’s youth have a constant need for stimulation and immediate gratification. When a recent Wal-mart television commercial advertises how Nintendo DS promotes family bonding, the situation is obviously out of control. Continue reading

Surviving Holidays Requires Twist on Tradition

I’ve gotten smarter over the years, especially when it comes to preparing for Hanukkah, the seasonal celebration that reminds us of the wondrous miracles that occurred long ago. It’s a miracle all right that I get everything done, from buying presents and baking cookies to planning parties and decorating my home. Hanukkah, the Hebrew word for “dedication,” was never meant to emphasize such extravagant gift giving, but I can’t help myself. Even though the true meaning of Hanukkah is seen in the light of the menorah, which reminds us to never take for granted our religious freedom, I overindulge anyway. Continue reading

Menorah Lights Way for Future Generations

The Jewish people are a “light unto the nations,” and our mission to keep the miracle alive is never brighter than at Hanukkah time when the flickering candles on the menorah symbolize hope and joy. Each time we light a candle, we are reminded of the possibility of miracles in our lives. We remember that in a time of darkness our ancestors had the courage to struggle for freedom—freedom to be themselves, freedom to worship in their own way.

Growing up, I thought that lighting the menorah was the symbol to eat dinner and get a present. Continue reading

Mitzvahs Highlight Another Holiday Season

Jewish people love tradition—even when the holiday isn’t one of our own, like Christmas. We share in the merriment of this widely celebrated Christian festival because it gives us an opportunity to do another mitzvah, not just see a movie and eat moo goo gai pan. Continue reading

Spread the Yiddish Word this Holiday Season

Yiddish is becoming a lost language, so any effort to preserve the dialect of our ancestors is worthy of attention. Actually, Yiddish is older than English, originating in Spain in the thirteenth century and then becoming a more commonplace lingo after the fifteenth century when Jews migrated to Eastern Europe, Poland, Galicia, Hungary, Rumania, and Russia. Yiddish comes from the German word “Judisch,” meaning “Jewish.” In the Yiddish language itself Yiddish means “Jewish.” Continue reading

Sharing Leftover Toys and Food Brighten Holidays

I knew Hanukkah was finally over when Jack flipped through the Farmer’s Almanac that I gave him on day eight and searched for crisp dollar bills in between the pages of astronomical data. When Sari opened a box with a purple hoodie inside, I could tell by the disappointed look on her face that she rather would have a Limited Too gift card and pick out her own wardrobe. Even though I got a “thanks mom,” I didn’t feel the love. Where’s the true appreciation? I was disappointed by their selfish attitudes. Next year they’re getting a navel orange in their tennis shoe like their Christian friends wake up to on St. Nick’s Day. Continue reading

Room Mom Winterizes Holiday Party

Ever since my kids started elementary school—almost a decade ago—I’ve done my part as a room mom. I take my volunteerism seriously. After an hour in a rowdy, germ-infested, overheated classroom, I automatically pop two aspirin and drench my extremities in Purel instant hand sanitizer. One of my most challenging jobs as a room parent is to plan the school holiday celebrations throughout the year, including the fall (formerly Halloween) party, the winter (formerly Christmas) party, and the Valentine (still politically correct even though named after a saint) party.

This time of year, most parents are usually sensitive about respecting different religious beliefs and understand the need to keep the festivities wintry as opposed to Christmasy. Still, every December, I encounter one or two moms who try to sneak a little controversy into the agenda. Continue reading