As every parent and grandparent knows, kids have an incredible tolerance for repetition. They can watch the same Phineas and Ferb episode again and again without flinching; theyd happily consume waffles and French fries three meals a day. When one of my sons was in preschool, he wore a Boston Red Sox baseball hat 24/7 (barring bathtime) for two years straight.
But experts say that children have more than just a tolerance for ritual repetition, they actually crave it. And that it is in the simple repetitions of life that our human beings find the sense of order and predictability they need to thrive in an unpredictable world. Perhaps exponentially so in our rocket-paced, technology-based, achievement-driven, media-ridden 21st century society.
Many of our richest sources of ritual can be found in Judaism, as the passing of longstanding traditions from generation to generation, le-dor va-dor, is at the very core of our religion. In other words, the Chanukah ritual lighting the candles, spinning dreidels, eating latkes and jelly doughnuts are not only fun things to do during the Festival of Lights, they combine with our many other Jewish traditions to create a year-round emotional safety net for our children!
Even if your child is convinced that all she wants for Chanukah is a state of the art cell phone, you can rest assured that what she really needs is something far more fundamental (and a lot less expensive). Here are ideas for eight nights of Chanukah rituals that in combination with the old standbys promise to leave your children feeling as warm as the menorahs glowing flames and strong as the courageous Maccabees for many holidays to come.
Treasure Hunt Night: Make a treasure map for your kids to follow in order to find their loot for the night.
Tzedakah Night: Give your children a set amount to spend and take them to the toy store where they can pick out a gift for a needy child, and let them personally deliver it to a childrens hospital, homeless shelter or charity drop-off point.
Latke-Making Night: Whether it is peeling, washing or frying, making latkes is almost as much fun for kids as eating them.
Homemade Present Night: Stock up on art supplies, have family members draw a name and proceed to make a special gift for that person. This tradition is sure to be as meaningful at it is messy.
Dreidel Showdown Night: Your family will have a geltload of fun taking part in an annual family dreidel tournament.
Big Present Night: OK, I may get some flack on this one, but I support this unabashedly materialistic ritual, nonetheless.
Book Night: This one is self-explanatory, but you can make this Chanukah experience memorable by baking cookies together and then spending time as a family reading your kids new books aloud.
Friends and Family Night: The stories and memories swapped at these meaningful gatherings will ultimately mean far more to your kids than the presents that will undoubtedly be swapped, as well.