When my kids were little, trying to make Chanukah fun for eight nights was a bit of a challenge. The kids looked forward to the holiday, and I did not want them to be disappointed, but we could not afford to have “Christmas” type excitement for eight nights. I needed a way for each night to be special, but not too special and not solely focused on getting gifts.
Finally, I came up with the idea of having a theme for each night. The themes set up the right amount of anticipation for each night, so the kids knew what to expect and understood that they would not get a big present every night.
Our celebration might be for as little as thirty minutes or it could last the whole night. The nights always included lighting the candles and having dinner together.
As the kids got older, some theme nights remained the same year after year, while others changed to accommodate their new interests.
While I started theme nights as a Chanukah tradition, some of the ideas could easily be incorporated as a lead-in to Christmas Day.
Here are a few of our favorites
1. Pajama night
While it is not the most exciting gift, the kids were always in need of some new winter PJs. I made it fun by buying really cute pajamas — sports teams, whimsical prints or footed pajamas. In addition, I might also buy a fuzzy blanket or socks or slippers. Pajama night was ideal for a day where we didn’t have much time but also didn’t want to skip completely.
2. Book and baking night
My kids loved to read, and this one was great even as they got older. When they were little, they would help me bake and then I would read them their new books as they waited for the treats to come out of the oven.
3. Game night
When the kids were little, each child would get a board game, and we would all play together. Scattagories, Wits & Wagers and Clue were big hits. As they got older, sometimes the gift would be a video game. We had a blast the year my son got American Idol for the Wii and we all had a singing competition. To this day, American Idol battles continue to be a big event at our house — even when it’s not Chanukah.
4. Small present
This night was equivalent to what children might get in their Christmas stockings: inexpensive items but always something fun and interactive. Sometimes, I did beauty supplies — nail polish or facial scrubs — and we would have a beauty night, or I would give CDs or iTunes gift cards. The kids could download music and have a dance party. One year, everyone got puzzles, and we raced to see who could finish first. Simple, but it still made the night special.
5. Big present
There was always one big item on their wish list, and this was the night they would receive it. Many times, this would be the night we celebrated with grandparents or extended family, as they liked to have the honor of giving the kids the item they most desired.
6. Movie night
The kids would get DVDs of favorite movies or TV series, and we would watch. One year, I bought a really cool popcorn maker for all three kids as the gift, and we watched a movie on demand together.
7. Surprise night
The kids loved this one! My husband and I would throw them in the car, blindfold them and take them someplace. One year, it was Toys “R” Us, where they got to pick anything they wanted under $30 and another year it was Build-A-Bear, where they each got a stuffed animal.
8. Mysterious Macabee
The Jewish version of Secret Santa, this was an opportunity for the kids to see that in addition to getting gifts, it was fun to give them too. We set a dollar limit, and each picked the name of someone in our family of five to buy for. We continue with this tradition even now that my daughter is away in college.
The kids really looked forward to these theme nights. Sure, they loved opening up presents but when they look back now, what they really remember is the time we spent together as a family during the holiday.