Growing up, our local fire department got to know our family well during Hanukkah: if it wasn’t a grease fire from splattering latke oil, it was our dog who went to fetch his new stuffed dreidel toy, knocking over the table full of menorahs causing the curtains to catch fire. Fortunately, no serious damage ever resulted from these incidents and the family gets a chuckle retelling these stories many years later.

Although Hanukkah should be a time to create joyful memories, reality can sometimes bring unwanted stress. Whether it be struggles managing our time during the eight-day extravaganza, shopping frantically for the perfect gifts or attempting to cook up a delicious latke feast for family and friends, we sometimes get caught up in the self-imposed holiday pressure and lose sight of the true meaning of Hanukkah which tells the story of bravery against all odds and the miracles that occur during times of darkness. This year, as we stand with our children by our sides feeling the warmth from the flickering candles, we should glow with gratitude for our own daily miracles. As the smells of latkes fill our homes, we can shed our stress and focus on the simple Hanukkah traditions that bring depth and meaning to our lives.

Reflecting on our childhood memories, it is not the gifts but the feelings we had lighting the menorah together, playing dreidel, hearing our young brother or sister say the blessings on the candles for the first time, or sneaking a piping hot latke off the kitchen platter before they left the kitchen. Keeping Hanukkah simply about togetherness and tradition and less about consumerism will set your family up for a time of joy rather than a time of frustration.

This year, challenge yourself: rather than spending your time on Amazon, find the perfect gift with togetherness, appreciation and celebrating the miracle of the Jewish people.

As your family embarks on the eight nights of Hanukkah, try some new ideas to make the holiday personally meaningful and memorable: 

  • Experiment with different latke recipes and have a family taste test
  • Make homemade sufganiyot (traditional jelly donuts)
  • Create homemade menorahs with materials found around the house or in nature
  • Make homemade Hanukkah cards and send them to family and friends
  • Attend a community candle lighting
  • Play dreidel with coins and then donate to tzedakah

Or my personal favorite: Invite a family or an individual who may not have strong Jewish ties to experience Hanukkah with you. What better way to celebrate than to share it with others?

Tammy Keces M.A. is the principle of Irvine Hebrew Day School and a lead Certified Positive Discipline Trainer. Published in Jlife 2015