"Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, explains that Jews used to exchange gifts only on Purim, but in the late 19th century there was a shift from Purim to Hanukkah. Christmas itself became magnified in the late 19th century when it became a national holiday in America. The Jewish custom shifted in imitation of Christmas, as its consumerism grew".
But it's cold, and it's dark, and it's so lovely to have an excuse to be generous. I don't want to be miserly, mean, or a kill joy. But as I've been exploring in this Chanukah series, Chanukah is about making less go further, and instead, we fill 8 nights with trinkets and goodies, which are occasionally but I suspect rarely needed.
Let's be honest, very few people are going to stop giving Chanukah presents, Christmas presents, or indeed presents generally, and in some ways it would be sad if we did. So maybe it's time to start thinking about how we give gifts sustainably, buying locally sourced goods, making things ourselves, favouring fair trade, avoiding more plastic shipped from China. Perhaps we might look at cookery or photography courses as gifts, helping to skill our loved ones in things they want to make time for. How about giving the gift of our time? Children and families and loved ones shouldn't need stuff to demonstrate our love for them, but should feel confident in our support and love.
My inbox is filled with 5-10 emails a day at the moment trying to tempt me to buy. Catalogues keep coming through the front door (hmm, maybe some time for decoupage or papier mache!) and across the country we are stocking up, hoping to be generous even when resources are scarce. We manage to make our money go further through careful shopping and bargain hunting, when Chanukah actually asks us to make the resources we must all share communally go further. The Menorah of the Temple, which the miraculous oil kept aflame for 8 days was a central part of the Temple furniture and symbolism, there for the whole community. So this Chanukah let's focus on making it a festival in which we think beyond the needs of the 'I' and the immediacy of loved ones, and look at how we might consume in a way that is sustainable, loving, and conscious of the wider impact of each purchase on us as a human family, sharing those resources available to us.