I always said I would never give my kids Chanukah presents. "Purim is the Jewish season for gift-giving!" I would proclaim, "And not Chanukah!"
And then I had kids. And they are soooo cute (see sidebar.) And I want to make them happy. And I want to give them things that will put smiles on their little faces.
So I started picking up things, here and there, that I could give them for Chanukah. Token things, little things. A set of plastic animals found in the clearanced dollar section at Target. An "egg" that dissolves in the bathtub to reveal a tiny toy dinosaur. Gelt. Sweet little jungle-animal hand puppets I snagged at Costco for $2 apiece.
My mom, bless her, loaded the kids up with Chanukah gifts as well. Again, nothing big-deal or crazy-expensive; a new box of markers and a coloring book. Sweet wintertime window clings. A Shalom Sesame DVD. A dinosaur board book. A Lego set.
And so it was that we ended up with more than one present for each night. By the third night of Chanukah, the boys started to peer into their bags for the next present almost as soon as they had gotten the first one. Uh oh.
But! I was excited for the fifth night of Chanukah. The fifth night of Chanukah, I tell everyone, is a magical night. A Chasidic custom teaches that this night is special, because it's the first night of Chanukah where there is more light than darkness amongst the candle spaces. The fifth night, being so close to a new moon, is always one of the darkest nights of the year, even moreso because it can never fall on Shabbat. The fifth night teaches that we must bring light even into a world of great, seemingly insurmountable darkness. We are the candles, etc. etc.
Gorgeous. So I decided long ago that this would mean in our house that we get out and do something positive for someone or some cause on the fifth night. The local Kollel was throwing a Chanukah party for some kids and the residents of our Jewish retirement village. Exactly what we needed - low key and awesome.
I explained to the kids (well, Asher) that there were lots of Sabas and Savtas (grandparents) who don't get to see their grandchildren, and that we could go talk with them and show them our favorite toys and wish them a Happy Chanukah and that it would help them feel happier and maybe not so sad about missing their grandchildren.
And that doing that would be our Chanukah present for that night.
I thought they Got It, you guys. I really did.
It took me a second to realize it, but in just four nights of modest gift-giving Asher had begun to equate "doing Chanukah" with "getting gifts."