Honoring Tradition and Building New Ones
With the holidays right around the corner, families are beginning to prepare for a season filled with togetherness and festivities. While this time of year always tends to be packed with an abundance of food and presents, sometimes it can be missing the important lessons shared through the passing down of traditions. Traditions remind us we are connected to a past history, yet provide us with the opportunity to create memories for our future.
We know that young children thrive on predictability, which is why they can especially come to appreciate the consistency in traditions celebrated from year to year. So even if your family doesn’t have a tradition that they embrace, it can be special to create one that is meaningful for your family. Below are some idea starters shared by our very own JCC Chicago Early Childhood Staff. We hope you find something that inspires and resonates with you.
Wishing you a wonderful holiday season, and a healthy and happy new year!
- “We like to sing quite a bit in our household, especially during the holidays. During Hanukkah, in order to open a gift, the person needs to sing a song and everyone joins in. The goal is to not repeat any song. So the strategy is to be the first person to sing, and therefore, the first person to open a gift.”
-Jody Benishay, Program Coordinator of Early Childhood at the Bernard Horwich JCC
- “In additional to the traditional party that we have with our family and extended family each year, on one night of Hanukkah my husband and I take our boys shopping to buy toys to donate to those in need. The boys each use their own money to buy a toy, as do my husband and I. We then take all the toys to the local police station to donate to Toys for Tots.”
-Trudi Krames, Director of Early Childhood at the Lake County JCC
- “My father started a tradition when we were children called the ‘Hanukkah Hunt.’ This is something that we passed down to our children, and they have come to appreciate and look forward to every year. After we light the candles and say the blessings together, we hide the presents around the house and read them clues in the form of a short poem. They don’t know whose gift they are looking for, so they have to work together to search for it. It requires good listening skills, problem solving, and cooperation.”
-Rachel Schwartz, Early Childhood Manager of Social Services
- “We use the menorah that I grew up with. I do not clean off the melted wax. I like to keep it accumulating from year to year to demonstrate our family history. I’m planning on handing it down to my kids when they are older. The menorah is nothing fancy, but the memories are priceless. I remember being little and lighting the menorah with my family. I would stare at the flames in awe.”
-Dana Sternberg, Early Childhood Educator at the Bernard Weinger JCC
- “We have lots of Hanukkah traditions in our family. In our house, we each light our own menorah and stay in the room together until all of them burn out. Sometimes we play board games, listen to music, or just hang out while we are waiting and watching. Many years we have theme nights (e.g.,- a night we give an art related gift, a night where we give books, etc.). Most years we give “coupon books” to each other (e.g.,- My daughter might give me 5 coupons to get a back massage from her, and I might give my kids 3 passes on chores). We decorate the room where the candles are with Hanukkah themed stuff and the kids artwork that I have collected over the years. We also make homemade latkes from scratch as a family.”
-Wendy Newberger, Director of Early Childhood
- “I have my kids choose 8 of their current toys or things they want to donate in order to get 8 new presents from us. We also pick out a new Hanukkiah together every year.”
-Rachel Weber, Director of Early Childhood at the Florence G. Heller JCC
by Rachel Schwartz, LCSW,
JCC Chicago Early Childhood Program and Social Services Manager,
Mom of 3 children (Levi- 7, Sawyer-5, and Alexa- 2)