Our Daughter Won’t be Opening Presents After We Light the Menorah
An idea began to percolate in my head last Chanukah. My husband and I were at a good friend’s Chanukah party and were chatting with another couple. They described how often the magic of the lights and Chanukah songs were quickly extinguished by their daughter’s excitement about moving on to opening presents.
At the time of the conversation, our daughter was only one, and had not really been old enough to really experience either Chanukah or presents, but I could remember being a child and feeling far more excited about the gifts than about the blessings and the flames. I also remembered many Chanukah celebrations filled with tears, probably because I was opening gifts after a long day and was exhausted.
What a pity I thought, Chanukah is a holiday about a miracle, how sad to lose the magic to mundane toys. Then an idea occurred to me and I asked my friends, “Could you do the presents in the morning instead?”
I can’t help but wonder if the idea to shift the time of giving Chanukah gifts was influenced by other positive associations I have with opening presents in the morning. As a child, I would wake up on my birthday to a few presents waiting for me in my bed. Also, I have extremely fond memories of spending the night at my non-Jewish Gramma’s house on Christmas and running downstairs early in the morning to find presents under the tree and in stockings. These mornings stand out for me in my memory as particularly joyful ones in my childhood.
Though we usually associate Chanukah with night time, since that is when we light the menorah, there is a morning component to the holiday as well. Every morning during Chanukah Hallel, psalms of praise, are added to the prayer service. Hallel is one of my favorite parts of our liturgy largely because the music is so joyful. However, Hallel is not the only addition to our service on Chanukah. Each morning, the Torah is read from Numbers chapter 7 to the beginning of chapter 8, a section that describes dedicating the tabernacle, an act that is accomplished by different people bringing gifts.
I know it is unrealistic that at this point in my daughter’s life she is going to attend, and more importantly enjoy, going to synagogue every morning during Chanukah for Hallel and the Torah reading. However, perhaps moving the gift giving to the morning allows her to still experience some of the joy that I suspect our sages were hoping these morning rituals of Chanukah would create.
This Chanukah, our daughter is two years old. Over the past couple of months, she has come to appreciate the specialness of candles (in particular, Shabbat and birthday candles). I can’t wait for her to get to experience Chanukah candles, as well. I know she is going to love them! And on Chanukah morning, I am sure she will enjoy opening gifts as well. My prayer is that she will get to experience the magic of Chanukah in the evening, with candles, songs, blessings, and quality family time, and that she can start each morning fresh and joyful with a few gifts. May she have a full eight days of celebration and not just eight nights.
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