Creating Warm Family Memories

Q: I have warm childhood memories of Chanukah, and would really like my children to have similar ones. But Chanukah 5778/2017 occurs in a different world than the one I remember. I realize that your column usually deals with more intense family issues and psychological problems, but my question definitely comes under the category of positive parenting.

In some families, visiting Bubby and Zeide on Chanukah can be more of an obligation than a warm memory-creating experience. Cousins who attend the family Chanukah party are often competitive, and everyone is focused and aware of who “showed up” and who didn’t.

Kids barely appreciate their grandparents’ “grab bag” tchotchkes in this world of high-end gifts — but it would be very costly for grandparents to buy expensive presents for all their progeny.

As far as adult behavior is concerned, it may sound humorous, but the constant harping on the calorie counts of donuts and latkes doesn’t add to the spirit of things!

Teenagers are often focused on where they would like to be for the few days they have off from yeshivah. I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of skiing or whatever else people might do on their time off — but what happened to Chanukah?

I have one son who is a real masmid, and the lack of ruchniyusdig content in our Chanukah celebrations bothers him terribly. He would rather just light his menorah at home, and stay there.

Bli ayin hara, we have plenty of relatives to go to, and we have some non-frum neighbors whom we invite over. I know the potential exists to make get-togethers more meaningful — but how can we accomplish this?

A: It is challenging to attempt to weave together warm experiences from the past with the reality of the contemporary world, which is more materialistic. However, the memories that are most meaningful to us are those that focus on relationships, acts of kindness and connecting to others in spontaneous ways. Studies show that the human need to belong to something beyond ourselves is one of the greatest human drives. Being part of a group gives us a sense of identity in a very expansive universe.

In this sense, being part of a family gives one a sense of roots. A parent should verbalize positive feelings and thoughts about family members being together and gratitude for all the brachos we share. Telling personal stories of hashgachah pratis can be a very meaningful way to connect.

A practical way to create a sense of warmth is by means of the often-used “trivia game” during Chanukah gatherings. Make sure to stress one or two good points that all family members appreciate about each person. Some parents realize how they actually show favoritism when they are unable (or find it difficult) to find positive attributes in certain children!

Passing around baby pictures and guessing who is who, is a type of activity that brings people together, and non-competitive games are good ice-breakers. Group games generally have a bonding effect. Showing your innate simchah at the gathering can be contagious, be it through singing (or even dancing!).

Focus on the positive aspects of family being together, and the issues you mention may fade into the background (if only temporarily). In this way, you will create heartfelt memories of Chanukah for your family, for years to come.