I find it helpful to remember that Chanukah does not need to be hours of celebration every night. For many of us, Chanukah is a 20-30 minute experience (if that). Keep in mind the idea of quality over quantity and remember that the minimum to fulfill the mitzvah is to light the Chanukiah each night.
Further, as much as possible, let's not get into the "Chanukah is just as good as Christmas" competition. Chanukah is not Jewish Christmas and if it were at a different time of year it probably would not be such a big deal in our communities. Instead, let's celebrate Chanukah for what it is. It is a holiday centered around the themes of miracles, light, dedication, Jewish pride, freedom...and oil. It is a holiday that allows us to participate in the broader society through gift-giving, donating, celebrating, and lights. It is one of the only holidays we can celebrate by ourselves in our homes if we so choose. Personally, I appreciate the flexibility of Chanukah. Each night, each year, I can make it what my family needs it to be. Some nights it is a "big deal," and some nights, it is just lighting candles and returning to the weekday joys of dinner, bath, and bedtime.
So, as we all start to think about what we want to do for eight nights of Chanukah this year, I offer you a list of 32 ideas (which could get you through the next four years) compiled at our program last night:
1. Connect with friends or family (skype or facetime the candlelighting or make time for an extended conversation)
2. Homemade gifts night
3. Craft night (do a project, make decorations for your home, go paint pottery)
4. Game night
6. Donate (go shopping for gifts for a child in need or spend time researching charitable organizations to make a donation)
7. See some lights (your neighbors’ lights or more official displays)
8. Go to a public Chanukiah lighting
9. Have friends over for dinner
10. Tell the Chanukah story or watch it on a movie
11. Make a Chanukah music playlist (Adam Sandler, anyone?)
13. Focus on Israel (give gifts made in Israel, eat Israeli food, etc)
14. Do an act of social justice (find a rally or meeting around a cause important to you, write a letter to a legislator)
15. Light some sparklers
16. Movie Night
17. Tasting Night (pick an item such as chocolate or wine and taste as many varieties as the night of Chanukah)
18. Go for Chinese food
19. Try making a Jewish food you’ve never tried or from a different part of the world
20. Give Jewish gifts (items of Judaica, books, etc)
22. Pet night (give your pets a gift, and maybe a bath, too)
23. Focus on your health (take a walk before lighting candles, do some kind of exercise)
24. Build a Lego Chanukiah (but don’t light it)
25. Do a “White Elephant” gift exchange with friends
26. Attend a Chanukah dinner at your Temple
28. Bring in takeout—you need a break from cooking!
29. Have your kids “invite” a stuffed animal or doll for the candlelighting (but keep them away from the flames)
30. Go through toys or clothes and donate items that aren’t being used in your home now
31. Write a letter or a card to a friend or family member (because nothing replaces “real mail”)
32. Arrange to spend a night of Chanukah with someone who doesn’t have family around or offer to drive someone to services during Chanukah who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend
I hope that you and your loved ones have a very happy Chanukah!