Okay, so we all know that Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday that American Jews have adopted as an alternative to Christmas celebration. I grew up in a household with a Jewish father and a Christian mother, so I got to double-dip on holidays, and I can say, without a doubt, that Christmas is better. During Hanukah, you literally just light a candle every night and if you’re lucky, you get a present or some chocolate. Based on that description, any night could be Hannukah if your mom is addicted to Yankee Candles.
In case you missed the memo, Chanuka is, according to Wikipedia, "a Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire." Basically, the Maccabees needed eight days worth of oil to rededicate this temple, but there was only one day of oil left. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days, and thus, the Festival of Lights. If you need a more detailed history lesson, watch the Rugrats Chanukah special.
Despite not being as awesome as Christmas, Chanukkah is still cool. Elementary school classmates will come up to your kid and ask them how to spell Hanuka. If your child is anything like me, they’ll say something like "There are actually multiple ways to spell it, since it’s just a transliteration of the Hebrew word חֲנֻכָּה," and halfway through that sentence their friends will lose interest and your child will be left alone. Plus, there’s great fried food.
Unfortunately for parents trying to teach their kids good financial lessons, there are two major parts of Chanukka that can totally twist and warp a child’s understanding of finances.
For example: unlike the Maccabees, you can’t afford to overbudget.
The Maccabees had one day’s worth of oil to burn in their temple. Thanks to a well-timed miracle, they were able to turn that into eight days worth of oil.
You have one day’s worth of money. There will be no miracle coming to turn that into eight days of money.
That’s a pretty valuable financial lesson that your kids need to learn: money is finite. It’s similar to the old "money doesn’t grow on trees" line, but it’s more like "money is not temple rededication oil."
Luckily, there’s a classic Hannuka game that can help parents get this point across, because Hannukkah is not just about spelling, assimilation, and fried potatoes – it’s also about gambling.
You know that dreidel that you made out of clay (or, more likely, bought at the pharmacy)? It’s a classic game for Jewish children that involves spinning a top and eating chocolate. Usually played with chocolate gelt, pennies, or raisins if your parents suck, the game of dreidel goes something like this:
- Start with an equal number of game pieces, ideally chocolate.
- At the beginning of each round, everyone puts a piece in the pot.
- Everyone takes a turn spinning the dreidel once. There are four actions someone can take depending on how the dreidel lands:
- If it lands נ (nun) side up, you do nothing.
- If it lands ג (gimel) side up, you take the whole pot.
- If it lands ה (hay) side up, you take half the pot.
- If it lands ש (shin) side up, you add a piece to the pot.
- If you run out of pieces, you’re either "out" or you ask one of the other players for a loan, which is kind of messed up if you think about it.
- The game is over when everyone gets bored and realizes they could be eating the chocolate instead of playing with it.
This game teaches kids a valuable lesson: if you gamble until you’re out of money, you’ll have to beg your peers for a loan so you can continue gambling. Sure, it’s not the most positive of lessons, but it does help get the point across that money is not oil that grows on trees or what have you.
So here’s an idea to help turn the old dreidel game into a valid financial lesson (and also really feed into anti-Semitic stereotypes): let your broke kids loan chocolate from you, but charge them ridiculous interest rates. You might be thinking, How do you charge interest on chocolate? Simple: your child just needs to be cutthroat out there on the dreidel field and land on gimel.
Or you can teach them about debt and interest the old fashioned way: with real money! Whether your kid gets a free allowance or earns it by doing chores, you’re probably giving your kid some sort of paycheck for being alive. Personally, I like the idea of making the allowance a salary for doing chores – it’s what my parents did for me, and it helped me learn that work is directly tied to making money.
You’re probably not giving your kids enough money so that they can instantly go out and buy everything they want. Therefore, they have to learn how to save money so that they can buy that new video game.
But what if they really, really want that new Star Wars game, and they just have to have it right now? And what if they only have $10 and just need to borrow $50 and can they please pay you back later, please, or do extra chores to pay it off?
Lend them that $50, but with a caveat: they have to pay 10% interest.
Why go through all of this trouble? Let me put it this way: would you rather have your kids learn about high interest rates from you or a credit card company? Becoming your kid’s loan officer helps drive home the point that saving money and being patient is better than going into debt, and it will do it before they get tricked by a predatory credit card.
As for this Xanuka’s dreidel gambling ring? Maybe just make your kids share all the chocolate equally. It is, after all, the holiday season.
Image: Robert Couse-Baker