The month before Chanukah, I start scouring the internet and stores for amazing deals on gifts that I think my family members will love. I spend hours going through catalogs, folding over pages, circling ideas, and making lists of the ‘ultimate’ presents for each individual. I try to find presents that are specific to each person’s personality and passions. Honestly, I go a little nuts.
To me, gift giving signifies that someone else is thinking of you, assessing your needs, and trying to find that special something that makes you feel valued.
Confession: I am married to someone who doesn’t take gift giving as seriously as I do. The first year I was married, I made a big deal out of my husband’s birthday present, complete with a long, heartfelt card. His response — a thank you and quick hug — left me disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, he appreciated it. But, somehow, it just didn’t seem to mean as much to him as it meant to me.
Reading The Five Love Languages, a book by Dr. Gary Chapman that categorizes the different ways people express and receive love, helped me solve my gift-giving mystery. After counseling married couples for 20 years, Chapman identified five very different ways in which people give and receive love: Quality time (focused attention, quality conversation), words of affirmation (compliments, encouragement, kindness in the ways of speech), gifts (whether they are monetary or the gift of a person’s presence), acts of service (help around the house, favors, chessed), and physical touch (hugs, back rubs, etc.). Individuals are most receptive to love spoken in their “primary” love language. One partner’s way of expressing love may not be the optimal way his/her loved-one receives it. We can learn to express love in ways our loved ones most appreciate it, an important step to maintaining healthy relationships.
After almost thirteen years of marriage, my husband and I have learned the ways in which we can keep each other feeling loved and fulfilled. It’s work we continue every day.
But being the mother of three very different boys has presented me with a new set of challenges. Giving my children what they need to feel loved is a constant work in progress. Needless to say, it requires effort. Children demand a lot of attention, frequently when we are too tired or busy to properly give it. Did I actually hear what my child just told me? Did I have time to give a proper response? Did he feel heard and valued? The questions are endless.
To me, Chanukah is a time to refocus priorities and spend time thinking deeply about the needs of my family. Some have the tradition that women don’t do any housework for the first half hour after lighting the menorah. This forces women — usually the ones scurrying around to prepare dinner or wipe the magic marker off the couch — to sit back and watch the flames burn. We are meant to gaze at the dancing lights, to uplift our spirits and ponder the true meaning of our lives.
And, of course, it is the perfect time for gift-giving. It is a rare opportunity to be truly present. Chanukah is a holiday that children look back upon with sweet memories — a gift of light and warmth that they, God-willing, will pass on to their future families.
This year, something extra special happened at my house. As I mentioned, I have three sons. Though each presents his unique challenges, I have one son who is more challenging than the others. Of course, as I often find in families, the one who drives me crazy is the one who is most like me. (Don’t we always find our own flaws the most grating in others?) I find myself butting heads with him on a daily basis, and it is a challenge to keep our relationship strong.
Over the summer, I gave him an Amazon gift card for his birthday. (He is always asking for Yu-Gi- Oh cards — if you don’t know what these are, consider yourself lucky!) On Black Friday, he started looking for deals online. What he found instead were some very fitting gifts for his brothers. For a boy who loves to collect (read: hoard) everything, it was a difficult decision for him to choose to spend his giftcard money on his brothers, rather than on himself.
Still, he resolved to make his brothers feel loved. In my home this year, the countdown to Chanukah became about gift-giving, rather than receiving. My son (the card collector) kept telling me in the weeks preceding Chanukah how good he felt about using the money on his siblings instead of on himself. The whole experience far eclipsed any gifts I gave them.
The lights of Chanukah represent how we as a nation must spread light out into the world. The menorah is placed in a very visible place to publicize the miracle.
But the light has to start in our own homes. A menorah first casts its glow on the faces closest to you.