With sundown a few hours away, I can breathe a sigh of relief: Chanukah is almost over.
There is so much about the "festival of lights" that I love: how the candles from our four menorahs light up the kitchen as the bitter cold wind whips against the windows in the darkness; the colorful collection of dreidels scattered over the table; the smell of latkes frying.
It's the gift giving that has turned this holiday into something whose end I anxiously await.
Growing up, I pretty much got what I wanted. When I asked for the Stretch Arm Strong doll for Chanukah, I got it. When Barbie's Dream House was all the craze, it was there among my presents.
There was something about getting gifts, though, that left me exhausted. I was excited to rip off the wrapping paper and see a brand new toy or game that I had requested. But after playing with it for a few hours or sometimes a few days, I felt the seeds of disappointment bubble inside of me.
Back then, I couldn't imagine why I felt like that. I kept my thoughts to myself and continued to act grateful for what I had. Now, in the midst of the holiday season, I understand perfectly.
The true art of gift giving is gone. There is little thought put into an activity that once was based on creativity and kindness. Many years ago you had to really think about who people were and what they would appreciate. Now, grandparents call and ask, "What do the kids want for Chanukah?" Children bring gift cards to birthday parties so that their friends can go buy themselves something they want.
After years of pretending they liked the eclectic gifts I gave them, my
children started making me Chanukah lists. This year's coveted items included North Face sweatshirts; a UNC Tar Heels hoodie; Abercrombie sweatpants; Kinect; a balance beam; an American Girl doll outfit; and chapter books.
There's nothing wrong with communicating what you want. To me, though, this is not gift giving. It's shopping from a shopping list, no different from the way you do it at the grocery store. It drains me.
Many years ago, when my first son was young, my husband came home and handed me a tiny ceramic pot with a dried rose resting in a small bunch of hay. He had bought it for me at a craft fair in the World Trade Center concourse. To this day, that little pot sits on the windowsill over my sink, warming me every time I look at it.
More important than the fact that my children get caught up in getting gifts is the fact that they are inwardly disappointed. I can see it in their faces. Sure, they are fleetingly happy. When my son wore his bright yellow Abercrombie sweatpants he told me how comfortable they were and seemed to walk into his middle school with a strut. It's the false hype, though, of Chanukah gifts as life-changing objects.
In a culture that has become so commercialized, it seems like giving a gift the old fashioned way will never come back into style. I will light the menorah tonight with joy in my heart: for the blessings of family, love, health, and not having to buy any more gifts this season.