Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Eight Nights Plus One - Monica Epstein

Eight Nights Plus One
Monica Epstein

Many people think that because Hanukkah lasts for eight nights, we shower each other with presents for more than a week. The truth is, Hanukkah is not a major holiday in Judaism. It’s nothing like Christmas is for Christians, although they do fall at nearly the same time of year. The only religious aspect to Hanukkah is lighting a menorah—a candelabra-like object—while saying or singing a blessing. We begin with one candle on the first night, and we add another candle each night until we light a total of eight candles on the eighth night of the holiday.

All other traditions for Hanukkah, like eating potato latkes (pancakes) and donuts (especially popular in Israel), playing dreidel, and singing songs are secular traditions.

My husband and I agreed that our children would receive only small gifts each night of Hanukkah, such as stickers or a book. Because all three of our children have birthdays in December and January, if we considered gifts they’d get from us, and from two sets of grandparents, they would be receiving plenty of presents over the winter weeks. Not only did we not want to convey that Hanukkah is a more important holiday than it is, we didn’t want them thinking that every night was present night for six weeks straight!

I began putting aside presents for the kids months in advance. Any time I saw something small (or even moderately priced because it could be used as a birthday gift), I’d purchase the item and stash it in a bag in my closet. By the time Hanukkah rolled around, I’d have no idea if I had the right number of gifts for each child.

This led to what has become a tradition in the Epstein household. Several days before the first night of Hanukkah (or a December birthday if one of those came first), my husband and I would close the door to our bedroom after putting the kids to bed, take out the loot I had collected, and spread all of it out in front of us—one row for each child. If I got it right, each row would have eight small gifts, and a few “better” items for his or her birthday. And then we’d wrap and wrap and wrap some more. If I hadn’t gotten the numbers right, I’d have at least eight days to fill in the missing presents.

The first few years taught us a lot. Gifts that required more play time needed to be distributed on a Friday or Saturday night so the child could stay up a little later to enjoy it. Don’t give a book, or anything else, for that matter, two days in a row. If one child gets something they’d view as prized, better give the other child something highly coveted too.

But how could we keep all of this straight once the presents were under wrapping paper? Was this soft, squeezable package socks with Daniel’s favorite animal on them or a dress for Sarah’s doll?

That’s when my husband came up with the system we still practice today. As we wrap, we place a small sticker on the bottom of each present. On the sticker we label the child’s first initial and the day of Hanukkah—one through eight—that he or she is to receive the package. And if it’s a birthday present, it only needs an initial because the wrapping paper is a dead giveaway.

We’re down to only one child at home now so it doesn’t take us nearly as long to complete our yearly wrap party. I’m sure going to miss it when she moves out. a Rafflecopter giveaway


Karen Michelle Nutt said...

Enjoyed your post and learning about how you celebrate the holidays. Lovely.

Maria K. Alexander said...

Hi Monica. Thanks for sharing your tradition. I like your idea for marking the presents. I'm feeling very unorganized this year and am fearful when I sort through what I have purchased for my kids, it will be too much and unbalanced.

Lilly Gayle said...

My family celebrates Christmas and I start shopping in July. Like you, I have a closet where I stash the gifts until my tree is up. And like you, the gifts don't always come out right. The good news is, I'm usually done by the time Black Friday rolls around. The bad news? This year, I had 4 gifts for my mom and only 1 for my dad. I redistributed one of my mom's and bought dad something else. Hope you had a lovely holiday and you're right. I always thought Hanukah was a major Jewish holiday. Thanks for the enlightenment. :)

Debra St. John said...

Clever idea with the stickers. Anything to keep things organized is fabulous in my book.

I'm going to do some Christmas wrapping tonight.

Monica Epstein said...

Thanks for all your comments. I hope everyone's holiday is special no matter what you celebrate.