The eight days of Chanukah (this year the first candle is lit on Sunday night, Dec. 22 and the last one on Sunday, Dec. 29) are the highlight of the year for nearly every Jewish child. But they can be daunting for the one tasked with procuring eight nights of gifts. And, on the last couple of nights how many of us have resorted to wrapping up a single Matchbox car, a pair of socks or a box of crayons?
Indeed, we need a miracle to pull it off every year. Just like when things looked the darkest for the Jews of Judea, they were given a double miracle: the militarily impossible victory of a small band of Jewish priests who took on the powerful Greek army (elephants and all) and the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting a full eight days in the freshly scrubbed holy Temple. Leading generations of Jews to let the world know the miracles performed for our ancestors by lighting our hanukiyahs (menorahs) in a place visible to all.
So, in addition to the latkes filling the house with happiness (and a fine layer of oil on walls, furnishings, humans and pets alike) and the dreidels ready to spin (don’t forget a couple rolls of pennies to make the game more exciting), if you are searching this time of year for Chanukah gifts guaranteed to delight, as well as transmit the ancient miracle of the holiday to your kids, grandkids or great-grandkids, these can get you started:
- A children’s tzedakah box. A kid-themed box for giving is a happy way to jump-start the habit of sharing some of their gelt or, year-round, their allowance, gifts or earnings with those in need. Tradition has it to place the box near your Shabbat or Chanukah menorah candlesticks so the young philanthropists-in-training can drop coins in just before lighting. Check your local Judaica store, synagogue gift shop or look online (though here is a charming one).
- “Mensch on a Bench.” There are already 150,000 of these little guys who’ve been let loose on the world in just the last six years (The Shark Tank judges also loved him). They each come complete with a book about Chanukah and are available at many retailers, big and small (the suggested retail price is $29.99) or online.
- PJ Library membership. If your child or grandchild isn’t enrolled in PJ Library yet, you just might want to sign them up. This free program sends out children’s books and CDs that explore Jewish values, ideas and traditions (Since 2005, a whopping 5 million books have been shipped to kids in 21 countries). The brainchild of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, PJ also enjoys the support of many Jewish federations and JCCs. Click here to sign up your child. Bonus: Grandparents might want to check out PJ Library’s grandparent program.
- Make a Plate. Destined to become a family heirloom and perfect for a stack of latkes, this 10-inch melamine plate with your child’s one-of-a-kind artwork will last for years. Visit makit.com and follow the instructions beginning with “Make a Gift Group Art Kit,” then download the circle for the child’s art in any media from paint to marker to crayon (except pastels). You’ll then upload their art and wait the two weeks for your Make a Plate to be done. The cost: $9. Note to the technically challenged: If you call (972) 709-1579, a customer-service representative can talk you through the process.
- Hershel and the Chanukah Goblins. Eric Kimmel’s Caldecott-winning classic is an unforgettable battle between good and evil, made all the more powerful by Trina Schart Hyman’s haunting illustrations. Since 1989, children have cheered on Hershel of Ostropol, who may appear like a simple Jew, but wait till you see how he outfoxes a series of big, scary goblins over the course of the eight nights of Chanukah. The price varies by format and edition.
- Dreidel Pop ’n Spin Game. You’ll recognize your old friends nun (nothing), gimel (take all), shin (give back one) and hey (take half) in this Rite Lite board game adaptation of classic dreidel. The game, which invites each player to push buttons to spin the dreidel inside a plastic dome, is designed to engage young and old alike and typically retails for under $20.
- Chanukah Mad Libs. You know that nothing comes out as expected in the mad world of Mad Libs, and no matter how much self-control one thinks one has, it’s impossible to resist laughing at Roger Price and Leonard Stern’s inspired lunacy around dreidels, menorahs and latkes, especially if you have some creative kids on hand to fill in the blanks. The 21-story compendium sells for around $5 in stores or online.
- Spot It! Shalom. Here’s one game that even pre-readers can enjoy all year long (though the package says 7 to adult). Being the first to spot the pairs of Jewish symbols—from Torahs to menorahs, from bunches of grapes to dreidels—is the object of the game. It’s so portable it can be played in the car on the way to the family Chanukah gathering. You can find it in shops or online for under $15.
- The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Chanukah. This is the 40th year that families have been able to get cozy before the lit candles and read aloud a story each night from Isaac Bashevis Singer’s collection, beginning in his childhood home in prewar Poland. “The great storyteller at his gentlest and most nostalgic” is how The New Yorker described the book ($10.95 paperback), which is enriched by the illustrations of Irene Lieblich.
- A Trip to Israel. What better time to give the gift of Israel to your child in the form of a certificate for future travel? Suggested wording: “This entitles (CHILD’s NAME) to a family trip to Israel for your bar (or bat) mitzvah.” And why not frame it with a map of Israel to hang on their wall as a happy reminder of what they can look forward to?