12/06/2012 04:01 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2013

How I Reclaimed Hanukkah and Got Rid of the Teenage Gimmies

I asked my teenagers what they wanted for holiday gifts. They said they didn't know. And nothing.

How is this possible?

Nothing? Nada? There's nothing that you want? Teenagers in a consumer age and not only do you have everything you need, you don't actually want anything?

I was surprised. And then I patted myself on the back.

I actually wasn't going to get my kids anything for Hanukkah this year. We are going on a cruise (just the second vacation that they've ever been on), and all of the inherent excitement and fun attached to that kind of trip is really 'present' enough.

Growing up in my family, Hanukkah wasn't about the gifts. Sure, we got eight gifts, but they were tokens: bags of chocolate money (called 'gelt'); board games to share with the siblings; a book or two. The Festival of Lights was about storytelling, latkes, donuts, parties and family time. There was no St. Nick. Spending hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, on presents was for people who had a tree to put them under.

Somehow, Hanukkah has evolved into a blue and silver Jewish version of Christmas. I was guilty of participating in that circus when my kids were young, running around buying eight presents per child (That means 24 presents, in case you're worse at math than me. Which takes a long time to wrap, just so you know.) I don't know what came over me; I guess I got caught up in the power of the season, the decorations, the window displays, the flyers, the sales.

I tried to make the gift-giving more family-oriented, alternating 'me' gifts with 'family' items like games and videos. I tried to make the gift-giving more manageable by giving one 'larger' thing, and then trinkets on the other days.

It didn't work.

You know what? The lighting of the Menorah, the eating of latkes, the spinning of the dreidle? Those festive activities all began to pale next to that stack of gloriously-wrapped gifts (a different paper for each child to make for easy access).

The day would start and end with a refrain called,

When can I have my present?

Annoying. Disappointing. Greedy.

That pile of presents, eight presents per child, for those eight crazy nights, was ruining my children. It was turning them into "gimmes."

The last year that I bought into the buying frenzy that Hanukkah had become, my youngest, a very active 6-year-old with yet-to-be diagnosed ADHD, snuck into the living room when nobody was looking and ripped open all of the presents looking for the video game he had asked for.

Hours and hours of shopping, surprise-planning and wrapping. Ruined in five minutes.

Hanukkah Harry cried. The Maccabees began to wail. The oil had run out.

And I decided that our Chrismasified Hanukkah would be no more. We would return to our roots.

Video games and fancy toys and other expensive items were relegated to birthdays and report card rewards. Less focus was put on spending and more on spending time with family. Sure, my kids still got gifts. I'm not the most horrible person in the world, but they were small things like books, chocolate money, maybe a little actual cash for winter break mad money or savings.

No pile of presents.

No gimmes.

And, it worked. My kids don't ask for things unless they really need them -- or desperately want them. They save their money and then they go for it (my youngest saved up two years' worth of holiday and birthday money to purchase an iPad).

I'm not saying my way is perfect, and I know I'm lucky I have a gift-giving out by playing the Jewish card. I'm not sure how far one could take this type of plan if a Christmas tree was in the picture.

I know some people might think I'm mean, like my sister who claims that even big kids like to open presents (I know they do, but why should I blow money just to buy something?) Don't get me wrong; I absolutely adore giving gifts. Watching someone open a present that I have carefully chosen, seeing their eyes light up with joy as they receive, knowing I have made their day better by giving them what they want, well that is really special.

I know that I'll find something amazing to give to each of my three children this weekend for Hannukah. It may be a gift card to their favorite store, it may be an invitation for a mani-pedi date. A promise to swim with the dolphins on Cozumel. Or it might even be an envelope of money.

It will all bemade more meaningful because they didn't ask for it, natch, demand it. And that makes the gifting so much more meaningful. And teenagers who don't beg incesantly for stuff, THAT is the 'Great Miracle That Happened Here'.

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