books make good presents too

Though Hanukah is not historically characterized as a holiday of gift giving, over the years it has become the custom to give gifts on this holiday too. I am well aware of the fact that in other countries, this has become one of the most outstanding characteristics of this holiday season. Years ago, when today’s grandparents were children, toys and personal gifts to children were a rare thing. Children had a few toys which they would treasure for years. When a special holiday or event took place, the kids would get a gift, and it would mean a lot to them. Sometimes, they would fantasize the fountain pen, the sled, or a personal toy for some time before the holiday came around. In today’s highly commercialized world, there has been an escalation in the cost of the gifts… but the present itself has become less valuable to the recipient. There are so many, and possessions have a shorter life than they used to have.

I like to see the present as a personal communication between the generations, and try to include a lesson, or statement in the choice of the gift, for it is a rare opportunity to share those things that are truly precious to me, with the young generation. I know that there are pressures to satisfy the expectations of children. And they, in turn, are stimulated by advertisements and publicity. But in this changing world, should we just go along with the powerful commercial wave? Or should we try to build bridges of understanding and communication with the youth, despite the deafening noise of advertisement?


58 responses to “presents

  1. there is joy in their eyes!
    a hug for they

  2. Unfortunately, advertising is the soul of business.
    We are caught. and we suffer and consequences.
    We must take care of our children.
    They are the weak point … then they grow up.

    • Yes, we are living in an age of commercial considerations. But our relationships with our children are the most personal there are in this world… we don’t have to be lead along by the commercial interests… I hope not… I hope we can communicate among ourselves in a deeper more meaningful way…

  3. When I was growing up, people were saying that Christmas was becoming too commercialised and those were the days when we would receive in our stocking, a gift like the ones you mention Shimon, a fountain pen or a book, an orange and some chocolate. It meant so much and I still have some of the books to this day, inscribed with love from Mum and Dad. Treasured possessions.
    As this years gifts head towards the landfill sometime in June (based on the average lifespan of all these consumer products now), what is left? It is sad that the machine that drives this consumerism has become so powerful and all invasive. It doesn’t seem to have enriched our lives despite the best efforts of the marketing machine to make us believe it does.

    • Yes, it is a shame. And it seems to me like a run away horse, or a machine that has gotten out of control, and is a danger to all nearby. But I believe we still have sovereignty regarding our own lives… and sometimes have to withdraw from the stampeding herd, and make a life for ourselves and our loved ones. It is hard to choose to be different… especially for children… but at times, it is necessary.

  4. A book is such an amazing gift! Thank you for sharing and reminding us to cherish what comes our way!

  5. The waste, superficiality, and “deafening noise of advertisement” of the season are tiring…make me want to hide away…the sentiment, though, is rich when we are quiet enough to hear it.

    • We are lucky here in Israel. The noise of advertisement doesn’t peak in this season. But I find it a great annoyment all through the year. Sometimes I turn off an otherwise interesting radio or TV program, because I find myself irritated by the advertisements.

      • Yes, that would be lucky…but I am already there with you about turning off the TV and radio…it is rare that I watch or listen, for much the same reason….

  6. Everything has a perspective … and it seems that you are concentrating on the intent, thus not the gift – which is what the celebration is all about. Blessings to you and your family!

  7. You are so gentle in your comments, while I simply hate the commercialism of Hanukkah and Christmas to the point of being disgusted. As a child, I was happy to get some Hanukkah gelt, and yet some children here in the US get a gift every day of the holiday, because the parents do not want their children to be envious of their friends who celebrate Christmas. You have the scene of a living room full of gifts, wrapping papers and boxes, kids being hyper, barely playing with their new toys because they have closets full of hundreds of discarded toys already, two year olds playing with the box instead of the toy itself, children trading gifts and an atmosphere of entitlement. I’m not one who usually says “bring back the good old days”, but this is one case where I wish for it.

    Glad to see you’re back (or read you’re back) and Happy Hanukkah!

    • Thank you for your comment, Rachel. I, like yourself, am not nostalgic for the ‘good old days’. But it does seem to take much too long till we identify some syndromes, and figure out how to deal with them. I find the attitude of ‘entitlement’ particularly repulsive. And it seems to me that commercialism reduces the value of our possessions and our enjoyments both. Thank you for your good wishes, and since Hanukah is already over, I wish you a happy new year.

  8. Thank you, Shimon, for reminding us that the giving and receiving of love is more important than the acquisition and possession and objects. It is saddening to see what has happened to the winter holy-days; there’s even a new game show aired during prime time and launched, incredibly, during this season, called “Take It All,” which elevates personal greed to depressing and sickening heights…I’m afraid it will prove stunningly popular. (Haven’t watched it; won’t watch it, but still, it saddens me what we’ve become and how little it troubles us.)

    Your post also reminds me how much I love books. Many of my childhood favorites (and, oh, how they affect us all our lives) were gifts from family, friends, and Santa!

    Simplicity and peace to your Hanukkah, Shimon. I love the pictures of your beautiful family.

    • ‘Take it all’ sounds like a very characteristic name for the message the commercial interests are pumping at us through the mass media. Actually, even the world of books has changed, and there are many books out there that have been genetically engineered in the same way that our food is becoming engineered these days. I doubt that we can reverse the trend. But what we can do, is invest more personal time in the lives of young children. And pick out presents that represent our own values. And my advice to young parents today, is if your family is fragmented, one can still adopt aunts and uncles, and even grandparents to bring a wider range of experience, knowledge, tones and emotions to the children. It helps make life more meaningful. My best wishes for a Happy Christmas, Catherine.

  9. I love the idea of gifts as a personal communication between generations. After living in Asia for a number of years, I managed to more or less “disconnect” from Christmas, and my youngest son (now 21) who was with me has also disengaged from the commercialism of Christmas. Since he and I will probably be the only two of the family spending Christmas together this year, we’ve decided to forgo presents and have an experience instead. Still not sure what, but we’ll probably go up into the mountains somewhere.

    • I wish you a very happy and blessed Christmas holiday, and I’m sure it will be all the more rewarding if you adapt it to your own understanding of what is special about the holiday for you and your son. Going up into the mountains sounds like a very special treat at this time of the year. All the best to you, Jordan.

  10. When we were children, Christmas was mainly a celebration for children and the gifts given on Epiphany Day were primarily for children, symbolising the gifts given to Baby Jesus by the 3 Wise Men. Sadly now even grown ups expect presents too.
    The best gift I was ever given was a sponsorship to protect the rain forest in South America a few years ago, which came with a certificate with my name on it. I felt immensely proud and I still have the certificate.

    I hope you are enjoying a very peaceful Hanukah. Love always.

    • I am not really against gifts, either for children or for grown ups. It seems to me that they can give pleasure and happiness. But I do have reservations about automatic behavior, and I think we’re seeing more and more of that these days. The girt you mention, Fatima, sounds like a very special one, with a lot of good will and blessing attached to it. Thank you for your sweet wishes, and may this Christmas be a very beautiful one for you and your loved ones.

  11. Last week I heard a man on a bus explain loudly, “Chistmas is all about getting gifts. Everybody knows that.”
    Honesty on the bus. And Chanukah of course was never the large volume shopping spree it has become today. I don’t like the modern commercialized world very much and I try to limit my involvement. Yes, the kids are largely “spoiled”. Happy Chanukah to you and your family.

    • Thank you very much, for your Chanukah wishes, Bumba. Forgive me that it took me a while to get back to my comments, but I do wish you a beautiful new year. And I do hope that we will be able to successfully ignore some of the commercial messages, and remember to appreciate the timeless beauty and holy moments around us.

  12. That is such a beautiful picture of your family. Happy, peaceful and simple Hanukah to you and yours, Shimon.

  13. You are correct that gifts cost more but are valued less in modern-day culture. Your approach to thoughtful gift-giving is excellent. Thank you for reminding me to keep it simple and true.

  14. what a beautiful picture of three beautiful people….
    The presents thing these days can indeed be a bit gruesome, and like you I remember each present I got when a child as being special and even if not immediately appealing would be something I’d work at appreciating and finding a use for. Has been almost an advantage being so skint most of Daughter’s life as no chance of buying her lots of unappreciated nonsense!
    This year I’m buying those gifts for charities and people will receive a card about how they have gifted a toilet or a goat to somebody a long way away…

  15. I am lucky I think to have grown up in a family where gifts were precious – we often had little money and so we never really expected to have much. I vividly remember one Christmas when my Dad was very ill and my mum sat up and made me a tiny doll, with petticoat and skirt, for my present. I still cherish it now. I don’t think you ever really forget the joy of simple things if you have been brought up to respect it..I do think there are still families and children who are this way, I like to think it has not all gone to the bad..

    • How wonderful that you still have that precious little doll with the petticoat and skirt. It is such things that characterize the holidays that I wish to remember. And I do believe that eventually, we’ll find a new balance for ourselves. Right now, it seems that commercialism has taken over too much of our world. But such phenomena rise and fall like the tide. I do believe we will outlast the commercialism. Have a very beautiful holiday, settleandchase.

  16. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    I agree, ShimonZ – the gift a communication between the generations. That’s lovely.

    Those kids look gorgeous 🙂

  17. this is partly why i enjoy thanksgiving so much more than (whichever winter holiday you celebrate). thanksgiving in america is like christmas but without the pressure or focus on gifts. i don’t enjoy getting gifts. i don’t enjoy others going out of their way for me, but i do enjoy doing so for others. perhaps that’s selfish, not sure, but that’s me.

    as for books, benjamin franklin said, “you will never regret money spent on books, education, and flowers.”

    • Benjamin Franklin was such a wise fellow… even from a rather young age. And yes, when I was visiting America, I was much more impressed by Thanksgiving. As for gifts, I think there is pleasure both in the giving and the receiving… but it loses something when it is expected or automatic. It seems like there is too much pressure in this season. My best wishes to you and yours, Rich. May it be a good holiday for you.

      • and to you and yours, as your holiday progresses. my daughter’s step-father is Jewish, and they’re currently celebrating Hanuka. Although my daughter isn’t Jewish, she enjoys learning about other cultures and religions, as do i.

        • Well, I am happy for your daughter that she is getting a good impression of Judaism… at least I hope she is. From what I’ve seen, the US is a very open and liberal country. I had a lot of really fine experiences there. For us, the holiday ended last night, but it could be that the American Jews had such a good time, they added a day.

  18. I think it starts innocently enough…who doesn’t love seeing the joy in a child’s face as he or she unwraps the gift waited for and wanted so long? How quickly, how insidiously though joy and wonder can turn to expectation and diminished gratitude. And how quickly the giver’s joy and heartfelt generosity can devolve into a sense of obligation and stress. Being mindful of the pitfalls, we would be wise to choose our gifts carefully. As you do, and have, Shimon. Happy Hanukkah and peace!

    • I agree with you, Spree. I do believe it started innocently. So many things change with the passage of time… sometimes one wrong move leads eventually to a dismal end. But since the roots of these holidays are tied to very positive messages and soulful longings, I hope that one day soon we’ll see a return to what was best about them. Thank you for your beautiful wishes, And mine to you too, for a Merry Christmas and a very happy new year.

  19. You are absolutely right Shimon, about the commercialization of gifts. The cost of the gifts have gone up bur their value has lessened. In fact gift giving and accepting has become more of a compulsion than an act of joy, hence their value does not last for long. Once the children get what they want, they lose interest and get on to ‘want’ the next big thing on the advertisement. And Books have always been my favorite gift, both to receive and give. I still have with me books gifted by my parents when I was a kid, I treasure them like no other thing in this world. great post!!

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, hemadamani. The world is changing very quickly these days… and though we are part of the change… and many of us have contributed to some of the changes, we don’t always know how to handle the change. It seems to me that what is most important, is that we think about what we’re doing, and don’t just go along with ‘everyone’. If each of us takes personal responsibility for his behavior, then this world will soon overcome its disabilities. Best wishes to you and your dear husband.

  20. Shimon, you speak right to my heart on this subject. I am so saddened that religious holidays have been turned into money making days. I hear of parents stressing about the financial implications and getting into debt to be able to buy expensive toys and gadgets for their children. I long for the simplicity and loveliness of a holy day that we just give love and appreciation.

    • Yes, we humans have been accused of being overly materialistic for a long time now… but commercialism has really gotten out of hand in recent years, and I expect that there will soon be a move towards simplicity. For many of us sense the need. Thank you for your comment, Jacquie.

  21. I agree Shimon that we should celebrate our holidays with a minimum of presents, but a maximum of love.

  22. I agree with you regarding presents, Shimon. They have indeed become the focus in festivities as children, and even adults clamour for more and more possessions. Some of the gifts I treasured most as a child, are the very ones you have given… books which transported me to other places and taught me new things! I loved books as a child, I love them today. I believe that they are timeless gift that can never be replaced by the bright flashing lights of technology.

    • Yes, I think we’ve been carried away by misguided enthusiasm, Josie. But I do see a lot of growth in awareness… and the most recent fads are connected to communication, which eventually might enlighten us just a bit more… enough to make me optimistic. Let’s hope for more understanding… and greater simplicity.

  23. All children realize that sharing your heart-being with them is the most precious gift of all. Shimon, thank you for dropping by and leaving such a heartfelt message, I am deeply touched. How are you and the family? I do wish peace upon every human heart so we can all feel, be as one people. Then there will be everlasting peace on Earth. I’m looking forward to the new year, with all of it’s beautiful mysteries and joys to share. Happy belated ראש השנה and חֲנֻכָּה to all my friends!

  24. You think American Jews had such a good time they added a day, huh? Now, Shimon, how I laughed hearing you say that! I actually chuckled aloud. I like the photos of the children most of all. I always give gifts of things make a connection for me. A simple time is always the best time. We had a very quiet Christmas in my little family. Kelli’s traditional dishes that she cooks only for holidays. It was a special time.

    • It is wonderful when there are special dishes for a particular holiday, and I am sure that your quiet Christmas was a very special time. It makes me very happy to think I gave you a chuckle. I do appreciate your attitude towards this holiday time, George.

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