Eight Giving Rituals for Your Family: Making the Most of Thanksgivukkah

American Gothikkah Thanksgivukkah poster; available from ModernTribe.com (click image to order)

by Stefanie Zelkind

From menurkeys to sweet potato latke recipes, there are many creative ways to celebrate this year’s unique overlap of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. In an effort to move beyond the kitsch, I would like to offer some additional ideas for blending the Hanukkah tradition of giving with the Thanksgiving ideal of gratitude. Here are eight suggestions (sorry, I couldn’t resist) of how to use Thanksgivukkah as a launch pad for learning, giving, and values-based family activities.

  1. During Thanksgiving dinner, take a “gratitude break.” Ask everyone to take a moment to think about the best gift they have ever received (Was it a tangible gift? Was it an experience? What is a key lesson learned? Who gave it to you? What made it so special?) as well as the best gift they’ve ever given (To whom? Why did you give it?) Go around the table and share. You may just learn that your daughter’s favorite gift was that quiet morning you spent snuggling together on the couch, and not the iPod Touch you got her last Hanukkah.
  2. Make the tzedakah box the centerpiece on the table, and invite guests to give – a quarter, a dollar, or more – to a collective tzedakah pool. Over dessert, ask each guest to suggest an organization or cause to support and give a 60-second pitch explaining why it’s important. Then, talk about the different issues raised, hold a straw vote, and come to a shared decision about which organization(s) you’ll support. Don’t focus on the amount of money (although you may be surprised at how generous people are); it’s about the discussion and the feeling of giving together as a family. Thanks to my own family for creating and modeling this Thanksgiving tradition.
  3. Dedicate each night of Hanukkah to an organization that inspires you. After you light candles, share a bit about the organization’s work with your family. Visit the website together, read a brochure, describe an experience you had, then make a donation to support their efforts.
  4. If your family tradition is to give your children gifts each night, set aside one night as a night to “give to others.” Go to a toy store together and pick out a toy to donate to a local drive. You can present your children with pre-loaded giving cards, such as the ones DonorsChoose.org and Jchoice.org offer, and let them decide which project they want to support. Another approach is to find an age-appropriate, meaningful volunteer opportunity to allow them to give of their time and energy as well; DoSomething and VolunteenNation have great resources.
  5. Pull out the crayons, stickers, scissors, and glue for a make-your-own tzedakah box activity. For the artistically challenged, there are kits available online. As you decorate, talk about tzedakah, what it means to give Jewishly, and why it’s important. Drop the first coins in together as an opportunity to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing.
  6. Another gift idea: Books! Read about giving, tzedakah, and philanthropy. Check out these tzedakah-related books for younger kids from PJ Library and these for older kids and adults.
  7. Watch a movie with a philanthropic message, like Pay it Forward or The Pursuit of Happyness, and talk about its key messages. Here’s a full list of movies and discussion questions, along with some other great activities for raising philanthropic kids.
  8. Unlike Thanksgivukkah, giving should occur more than once every 70,000 years. Use the holiday as a chance to make a long-term commitment by setting out a course for ongoing giving. Open up a donor-advised fund for your child through your local Jewish federation or community foundation. Encourage your teen to join a teen foundation board at your synagogue, JCC, federation, or summer camp. Establish a giving tradition that works for your family (put money in the tzedakah box every week? give a portion of allowance to tzedakah? make an annual gift alongside a family day of volunteering over winter break?).

Although Thanksgiving and Hanukkah won’t meet again in our lifetimes, each holiday on its own is a chance to the think about the gifts we give and the gifts we’ve been given. Many of these ideas can be applied beyond the rare Thanksgivukkah occurrence. What ideas do you have for exploring philanthropy with your family? Share your suggestions in the comments section below.

Stefanie Zelkind serves as the Director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network, a growing community of teen philanthropy program professionals. She also serves as mommy to two-year-old Ari, who can’t wait to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime holiday mashup. Stefanie can be reached at stefanie@jtfn.org