I married a nice Catholic boy a decade ago. As we approached our first holiday season together, I asked him how he felt about celebrating Chanukah. I’m not particularly religious, but I have always liked The Festival of Lights for its emphasis on family time. I was delighted when he said yes. So, for ten or so years now, we’ve been doing both Christmas and Chanukah.
Sometimes, it blends beautifully. I especially like it when Chanukah falls earlier than Christmas and lets us re-bond as a family before the widespread Christmas madness takes over.
Sometimes, it’s like that old candy commercial : You got your Christmas in my Chanukah! You got your Chanukah in my Christmas! Will these two tastes really taste great together?
Like many families, we’re trying to scale back our holiday spending. We love to delight each other and our children with gifts, but eight nights of presents and then Christmas can get really expensive, so after a year or two, we decided to do it differently. Instead of making Chanukah about gifts, we plan a family activity for each night. I love it!
Here’s a break down of our typical nights:
First Night: Dreidels and Gelt.
As we teach the little one the prayers, I get the joy of listening to my older daughter patiently walking her little sister through the words, syllable by syllable. Her sweet little warble alongside our more grown-up voices made me happily teary. She’s growing up, that one! You can tell because she now cheers for anyone who gets Gimel!
Second Night: Art Night: Family collage
We’ve done this before and I think I’d like to have us do it every year until the kids start to refuse. We grab all the magazines in the house and pull pictures of things that represent our family or one of the members of it, then make a family collage. On ours, you’ll see comics, heroes, chocolate, popcorn, coffee, legos, games, Star Wars, Twinings tea, and many other things we enjoy together. The best part is all the laughter and talking while we hand each other pictures to consider.
Third Night: You-Tubing
We have a teenager and a near-tween in our house, so YouTube is a service that sees a fair amount of use. We give each person ten minutes or so to show things they like on YouTube to the other family members, who promise to at least watch politely.
Fourth Night: Family Movie
Pleasing all of us with a single activity can be really challenging, but movie night works for us all–popcorn on the couch in the dark with cuddles and giggles. Perfect.
My favorite of recent years’ selections was Sky High–superheroes that don’t get too dark for smaller folk, but no annoying cartoon voices for us larger folk. The three larger folk had seen the film before, but it held up very well. It’s a really charming flick!
Fifth Night: Family Game Night
At least one night each year is game night. We’re fans of co-op games like Forbidden Island, Pandemic, and Last Night on Earth. Some of those are a little stressful for the youngest Bryant, but she loves Flash Point. In it, we play firefighters, with different types of expertise, working together to rescue people and pets from a fire. Last time we played, I’m happy to report that we rescued all but one of one the fire victims. All of us really get into this scenario. We scramble to make sure any puppies or kittens make it out of there!
Sixth Night: Bowling (or another outing)
This can prove to be the expensive night. Bowling. But it’s a good time, a game we all enjoy but don’t get overly competitive over. It’s been fun, too, when we went out for lasertag or rollerskating. We’re always looking for more of these kinds of activities, and some of my happiest family memories come from these nights. This year, we’re thinking of trying a puzzle room.
Seventh Night: Baking
I love to bake. So does the little one. The older one not so much, but she does love arts and crafts. So, Ninja-bread men and a gingerbread house, it is–where baking is like arts and crafts because the icing is really just edible glue.
We won’t be winning any posh awards for our efforts, but we always have a good time. It is a surprise when green hail falls on the plastic lawn of our gingerbread house kit, but we do get some strange weather here in North Carolina.
Eighth Night: Gifts
The last night of Chanukah is always so beautiful. By then, the youngest feels confident in at least some of the words (at least Barukh atah Adonai) and all of the tune. We always eat something lovely while we watch the eight candles glow and melt. This night, we each receive one gift. The gift-selecting goes a little differently for Chanukah than for Christmas in our family. Christmas is all about flash and making an impression, but the Chanukah gift is often a small thing designed to make your day to day life a little easier, better or more fun. A mitzvah.
I feel very fortunate to get to celebrate both these traditions with the people I love.