By Robyn Cohen

When I was younger, my mother took my sister and me to a synagogue Hanukkah bazaar and instructed us to each pick out a Hanukkah gift for each other. I searched and searched for the perfect (yet inexpensive) gift. I couldn’t wait for her to open the Hanukkah surprise that I picked out just for her. To this day, I don’t remember the gifts that my parents gave me that year, but I still remember the excitement that I felt upon giving my sister that surprise. (It was a stackable crayon!)

Just this morning my daughter said to me, “Mommy, remember the cake that I made for you for your birthday?” (My birthday was in June.) Her birthday was much more recent, yet, she was remembering with delight the cake she helped make for me.

It feels good to do something special for another person, and giving is much more of an active endeavor than receiving. On Hanukkah, we have the privilege of lighting the Hanukkiah for eight nights- each night we add another candle creating more light than the night before. As parents, we can serve as the Shamash (the candle that lights the other candles) for our children, helping to create light for them. Similarly, sometimes our children serve as our Shamash, opening our eyes to the light all around us with a picture, a smile, or a hug- the best gifts we can get!

As you light the shamash on these dark nights, try to use these eight nights as an opportunity to share your warm light with others.

  1. Invite another family over to light candles with you. Click here for the Hanukkah blessings, songs, videos and games.
  2. Play the dreidel game with chocolate gelt or something that your family enjoys.
  3. Bake or buy latkes or donuts to celebrate the miracle of oil.
  4. Have your children pick out and exchange gifts with each other (or with a treasured friend).
  5. Donate to a child in need. You can bring your child with you to help pick out something. (If you anticipate this to be difficult for your child, maybe plan to get that gift for your child as well.) Or, you can purchase it and spend one of the nights wrapping the gift together and then spend time together playing a board game.  Feel free to contact me if you would like to know about organizations that either collect Hanukkah gifts, or match you anonymously to a child. Many organizations are collecting pajamas this time of year.
  6. Read a PJ Library Hanukkah book together and use the wonderful discussion guide in the book flap.
  7. Sing with your family! Did you notice that every PJ age group will be getting a CD this month! As a staff member at my child’s camp always says, “a singing camp is a happy camp.” In much the same way, “a singing family is a happy family.” Singing together is bonding and fun (and one doesn’t have to be a good singer to enjoy it!). 
  8. 8. This season, PJ Library founder Harold Grinspoon is sending your children a special, extra gift to enhance your family’s engagement with Tzedakah. We hope you will use it to make a difference! Talk to your kids about where your family would like that tzedakah to go.

On Hanukkah we have eight wonderful opportunities to create light! What family memories will you help create? Enjoy being your child’s shamash- this Hanukkah and always!