It may already have happened in your house. The toy catalogs arrive. Advertisements for the newest games, technology and “must haves” are everywhere.  Our kids can’t wait for Chanukah — eight whole days of gifts!

As much as you try to focus on the meaning of the holidays — giving back, spending time with family, the historical significance of Chanukah — it is hard to compete with our culture of consumerism, particularly today.

Are you looking for ways to “take back” Chanukah, to make it more meaningful for your family beyond wrapped presents? Check out the following suggestions to add meaning to Chanukah and remind kids that this holiday is more than about new presents:

1. Consider giving (and asking for) gifts rather than presents.  Have an age-appropriate conversation with your kids that gifts don’t necessarily mean tangible items you hold in your hand. Rather, a gift can be an experience, memory or tradition. Give gifts that promote togetherness and make memories at the same time. Consider membership to a museum, amusement park or climbing center. Think about what children are interested in doing, learning or trying. Gifting swimming lessons, subscription art kits or cooking classes show that you have a personal interest in their hobbies and allows them to experience the gift over time.

2. Consider a gift to share a passion.  All children love individual one-on-one time with adults to engage in an activity set aside just for them. Think about your own hobbies and interests and how you could pass on this love to a child. How about:

  • Teach knitting, origami carpentry or crafting.
  • Explore a science kit and conduct experiments together.
  • Give a book or magazine subscription that conveys your passion and read together.
  • Gift a day trip experience or day out for lunch and the movies.
  • Create a memory book or photo book.
  • Go on a nature walk, hike or bike ride.
  • Go to a sporting event, musical show, local play or art exhibit.
  • Plan, shop and cook a meal for your family.

3. Consider volunteering together. While the holidays are about celebrating each other, they are also the perfect time to be grateful for what we have and help those who are less fortunate. Look for opportunities to give back and explain the importance of supporting those in our own community. Children will understand they can make a difference and see the positive power of a group of people working together toward a worthwhile goal.

    • Model philanthropy whenever you can. It isn’t enough to talk about giving back — show your children it is part of who you are. Impart values and habits that help them grow into caring and productive members of society.
    • Talk with your children about the causes that speak to your family and seek out opportunities in these areas.
    • Check out jvcbaltimore.org. Consider being a part of community Mitzvah Day on Dec. 25.
    • Not sure where to start?

–Call a local senior center and inquire about opportunities for young children visit with residents.
–Look for community toy and clothing drives.
–Consider adopting a family around holiday time.

4. Make Chanukah a family affair. Consider adding a family activity to your menorah-lighting each night. Here are eight to get you thinking:

  • Make your favorite latke recipe and invite friends for a latke feast.
  • Play dreidel or a favorite board game and have family game night.
  • Rent a movie, pop some popcorn and snuggle up for movie night.
  • Work on a puzzle together or teach kids your favorite childhood card game.
  • Get kids involved with simple DIY craft projects to gift to each other.
  • Bake your favorite Chanukah cookies together or try sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts.).
  • Light the menorah over Skype or Facetime, and sing your favorite Chanukah songs with out-of-town family.
  • Set up an ice cream bar; have each family member share their favorite book and read together.

Teach children that Chanukah isn’t about presents. It’s an inspiring holiday that can be special and memorable for your family without breaking the bank. Kids are often happiest when you build a city out of boxes, create a pillow fortress, go for a nighttime walk or have a dance party together. These activities create memories and won’t cost a penny.

Rachael Abrams LCSW-C is a clinician for Jewish Community Services. For information, call 410-466-9200.