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A New Way of Shopping for Hanukkah

By Marcia Lerner

  • PUBLISHED November 29
  • |

Ann Halpern, a single parent to two kids, remembers running around frantically to shop in the weeks before for her winter holiday trip to New York, where her extended family lives. Hanukkah, usually in early December, began to feel more like a shopping odyssey than an actual celebration. And once she got to New York, it wasn’t much better.

“It used to be totally overwhelming and excessive because everybody wanted to get everybody something,” Halpern says. “It felt like everybody lost track of who was giving what to whom and the gift-opening process went on for a very long time.”

The end result was that presents were everywhere, everyone was exhausted and there was a general sense of too much that made her and her siblings uncomfortable. So they decided to do something. Halpern’s siblings and parents sat down and outlined new limits on gift-giving. Each adult has only one other adult to buy for, first chosen by a family friend picking names out of a hat, and now using an app that sets up gift swaps. 

“It’s more fun just to have one person to focus on,” Halpern says. “You can put your creative energy into figuring out what’s the right thing for that person instead of being overwhelmed trying to figure out something for everyone.”

Halpern says she and her siblings felt relief as the focus of the holiday moved from financial pressure and became more about values. “Things had felt out of control, and it didn’t match how our family feels about holidays, or gifts, or each other really.” The endless present-opening gave way to longer conversations, the kind you can only have in-person, while the adults watched the kids play.

She feels that by stopping and taking stock, the family was able to slow down, so their energy and focus can be on each other.

At home in Boston, Hanukkah now means a small present for each child on each of the eight nights. “There’s one night that’s about them getting something for each other,” Halpern says, “and one night that’s about them giving something back to the world.” They sit together and find charities that mean something to them, like the local animal shelter for her animal-loving daughter, or a nonprofit that collects donations to support young kids for her son.

Halpern enjoys these small rituals because she knows that when she takes her kids to New York to visit her parents and siblings, they’ll get gifts—and time together. The holiday feels more in keeping with what they believe in: attention to each other. 

Marcia Lerner lives in Brooklyn, NY, and writes about finance, health care and children's literature. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times and Proto magazine as well as many financial websites and magazines.

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