Each year we struggle with the dilemma of what to get other people for Chanukkah. Here are my suggestions for those on your list who have everything – and for those of you who refuse to go into debt to satisfy the gods of commercialism.
For kids: Give each of the children in your life – no matter their age – an afternoon. Find a place to explore together like a Jewish book store, a part of the Smithsonian you've been meaning to see, the National Arboretum (a hidden treasure). Plan it. Make the date, just the two of you. Do it.
For parents: Write a letter detailing some of the lessons they have taught you. As most parents know,we try to figure it out by watching our kids. Give your parents the gift of knowledge – about you.
For spouse or significant other: Offer a blessing. Work it out on paper or screw up the courage to improvise. Place your hand on his or her head and say all the wonderful things you hope God will provide to the person you love so much.
For the person who cleans your house, cuts your lawn, sells you your daily paper: Show some interest in them as human beings. Ask about their families. Find out if they like their work. Find out if they have other jobs. (Learn their names?)
For your co-workers: Tell them what they want most to hear. (No, not "I'm giving you a big raise!") Tell them you could not do your job without their help. Too self-conscious to do it to their faces? Go down to Diversions and spring for the card.
For the people you see at shul: Respect their shabbat. Doctors don't come to shul to practice medicine. Attorneys don't come to shul to give legal advice. The people who work for Jewish community – inside the synagogue or outside, professional or volunteer – don't come to shul to save you the trouble of making a phone call. (I am the legitimate exception – especially since I will tell you if we need to talk privately after shabbat!) Greet them all instead with "shabbat shalom" and talk with them as the friends they are.
I know that gift-giving on Chanukkah is an artificially induced custom. But as long as we are capitulating, we might as well do it with meaning and class!
I wish you lights and miracles.