Creative ways to wrap wine bottles as gifts


I never like to go to a party without a gift for the host or hostess, and a bottle of wine is always a surefire way to say thanks for the invitation. But instead of presenting the bottle in just a gift box or (gasp) a BevMo! bag, wrap it in something unique. These fun wine-wrapping ideas will help your gift stand out from the crowd — and get you invited back for the next soirée. 

A new leaf

Throw in the towel

Wear it well

The hangover

Teaching the value of giving in the season of getting


The gift-giving tradition that these days is so strongly connected with Chanukah can be a mixed blessing. Often, preceding the joy of hitting the right note with a gift are days fraught with the pressure to find it. There’s also the question of how much to spend, and what kinds of values gift-giving can teach our kids. 
 
Are Jews competing with the overkill of Christmas? Are we making our winter holiday too commercial? And, should kids really be making lists of what they want? 
 
Phyllis Folb, an educational consultant, believes it’s possible to both reject and embrace the material expectations attached to the annual holiday.  
 
A mother of two and grandmother of four, Folb loves the feeling of finding the right gift for a family member. But her family has always made clear that the holiday is about more than the perfect present. 
 
“It’s not the gift, it’s the giving,” Folb said in a phone interview. 
 
Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom said his family has always used Chanukah as an occasion to donate to others who are less fortunate. 
 
“We took the toys [our kids] don’t play with, and the jackets they don’t wear” and gave them away, Feinstein said in a phone interview, recalling Chanukahs when his now-adult children were young.
 
He described Chanukah as a time for a “real sharing of self, rather than a sharing of stuff.”
 
The holiday has not always been about expecting parents to deliver the goods to their children. Religious studies professor Dianne Ashton’s 2013 book, “Hanukkah in America: A History,” tells how Chanukah customs evolved in the 1950s. Where Purim was once the Jewish gift-giving holiday, Chanukah used to be restricted to the exchange of gelt.
 
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, however, Jewish child psychologists encouraged parents to buy gifts for their children to allow them to feel more assimilated among their Christian peers — ironic considering that Chanukah is a holiday that commemorates a revolt against assimilation.
 
The attachment to Chanukah gift-giving took off to the extent that today, when the Christmas shelves of stores like Target and Walmart are filled with the likes of Grand Theft Auto, iPads and more, many parents find it hard to manage their children’s desires. 
 
Family therapist Bette Alkazian advises parents not to put too much pressure on themselves: Children are difficult to please, and gift-giving is a challenging task to master. 
 
“It’s very hard, and it’s very stressful. I think a lot of parents stress about it a great deal. And we don’t please our kids, or we’ll buy them something we think they’ll love, and they’re like, ‘Oh [whatever],’ ” Alkazian said. “We’re always [feeling like we’re] failing our children as parents. Probably [the holidays magnify these feelings], but I think a lot of parents probably feel that way every day.”
 
Alkazian, who has three children, calls her method “Balanced Parenting.” Her advice to parents may resonate even beyond the holidays: “Just do the best you can, and don’t take anything personally.”
 
Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and author of the books “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” and “The Blessing of a B-Minus,” believes children today are smarter and savvier than ever when it comes to manipulating their parents into buying them products. They’ve learned from advertisers and marketers that intentionally equip child-viewers on how to push parents toward specific purchases: This isn’t news to anyone familiar with the terms “pester power” and “nag factor,” Mogel said in an interview.
 
“ ‘Pester power’ and the ‘nag factor’ are giving kids a script in television commercials to talk their parents into buying them things they don’t need or necessarily want, so they learn how to say … ‘If you buy me a Hawaiian Ice Barbie or the Barbie Primp and Polish Styling set, it will allow me to cook and stimulate my creative imagination,’ and then the parents are totally helpless,” Mogel said.
 
“The advertisers and the manufacturers … know what parents care about.”
 
This type of advertising is illegal in some countries. Advertising aimed at children under 12 has been illegal in Sweden since 1991, for instance, according to commondreams.org.
 
Christmas-envy in Jewish families is also part of the problem, Mogel said.
 
“The big dilemma is that parents are so eager for their kids to be happy, and the kids are so articulate, and they are such good little attorneys, that it’s very hard for parents to say no, especially with all the glitz of Christmas and allure of Christmas.”
 
One solution is to not give any gifts at all. That’s the suggestion offered up by Ori Zadok, early childhood center director at the Woodland Hills synagogue Kol Tikvah. He said there is no rule that children need gifts during the holidays.
 
“It’s a sweet gesture to give your child a gift, but it’s not essential for their development. They’ll grow up just fine [even] if they don’t get gifts,” he said. 
 
“One of the biggest problems … in terms of gift-giving,” Zadok said, “is the ungrateful child. The getting of a gift and saying, ‘No, I wanted something else.’ What do you do as a parent? Say, ‘OK, I’ll cave in and get you that next time,’ or, ‘This is what you got and be grateful for it’?” Zadok said.
 
The lesson is that gratitude is more than something one feels, it is something one shows — and gratitude can be taught, Alkazian said.
 
“Let’s say we are doing a night of Chanukah at Grandma’s house — even if you don’t like your present or even if you hate it, you need to say, ‘Thank you, I love it,’ and be a gracious receiver, because somebody thought of you and took time to buy you a present and … you need to be gracious regardless of what you think about the gift,” Alkazian said. 
 
And what about families where the parents hope to receive something in return? What are best practices in those cases? 
 
Alkazian says parents should tell their children what their expectations are because they can’t reasonably expect their children, especially if they are young, to magically know to buy something for their parents. 
 
“Whatever the expectation is should be expressed in advance, explicitly: ‘I don’t expect you to spend your money on me, but I would love something handmade,’ or, ‘It would mean the world to me to get a note from you on Chanukah,’ or … ‘Will you draw me a picture for my Chanukah present this year?’ ” Alkazian said. 
 
“Obviously, [the children’s] ages are going to determine what we say and how we say it.” 
 
New York Times columnist Ron Lieber’s upcoming book, “The Opposite of Spoiled,” argues parents need to be frank with their children about their financial limits, and that this can solve some issues. Parents trying to raise grounded children should set limits on what they will or will not buy for their children, but the limits, Lieber said in an interview, are “artificial” if the children don’t understand the family’s financial situation. 
 
“The kids are often faced with limits that go unexplained or are lacking in logic, and the kids’ job in part is to figure out how the world works and how this particular mysterious force known as money kind of operates within it. The whole question of what you get and what you can ask for and what isn’t appropriate to get or give or ask for during the holidays is not a small part of this larger conversation of where the limits ought to exist,” Lieber said. “That’s the framework where the gift-giving happens during the holiday.”
 
Lieber said he believes in the value of gift-giving: “The science on this is pretty clear now — people really get more long-term happiness from giving something to someone else than they do off the short-term dopamine hit of getting to rip open the present,” he said. “Teaching kids to give is a great thing to do.”

A Sporting Chanukah


 

On the third night of Chanukah my true love gave to me, an Olympic swim cap signed by Lenny Krayzelburg, a game of Horse with the Houston Rocket’s Bostjan Nachbar and a chance to be on the set of ESPN’s Cold Pizza.

Thanks to the Center for Sport and Jewish Life’s online Chanukah auction (www.CSJL.org), gift giving just got more interesting. Forget about the tired old Gap sweater, the Best Buy gift card or the basket of peach-smelling lotion. Imagine your son opening a baseball signed by the 2002 World Series Champion Anaheim Angels or your daughter having dinner with Survivor: Africa winner (and nice Jewish boy) Ethan Zohn. In a fund-raising effort, CSJL will be offering these and other sports-themed gifts through Dec. 20. Opening bids range from $36-$400. Items up for auction are not only unique (and tax deductible!), but their sale supports a Jewish cause.

As longtime publisher of The Jewish Sports Connection quarterly, SCJL is a charitable nonprofit organization that promotes Jewish identity and Jewish values through sport. SCJL runs the Association of Jewish Student Athletes, a support network focused on mentoring, and created T.E.A.M., a curriculum for youth athletic groups that incorporates traditional team sport principles and Jewish ideals. In addition to the auction, the center’s Web site features articles on Jewish athletes, a youth page with pieces written by readers age 12-16, and stats from the world of Israeli sports. So this year, don’t strike out with your gifts — place a bid on an item that’s sure to score big points with your loved ones. — Carin Davis, Contributing Writer

Merry Chrismukkah to You


Amy Klein, Managing Editor

A menorah is topped with candy canes, a mini Christmas tree adorned with a Jewish star and a spinning dreidel pictures Frosty the Snowman on one side and the tree on another: These are just some of the “interfaith” pictures featured on the mugs on the gift section of the Chrismukkah Web site (www.chrismukkah.com). Other images — which also adorn T-shirts and holiday cards — include a reindeer with a menorah for antlers, a zayde-slash-santa and other cute combo sayings like “Oy Joy” and “Merry Mazeltov,” which get across the sentiment of both Judaism and Christianity.

“Chrismukkah is a blend of favorite traditions from both Chanukah and Christmas,” writes site founder Ron Gompertz, a Jew, who is married to a Protestant, Michelle. “Michelle and I deeply respect the religious observances of Christmas and Hanukkah as individual holidays,” he writes. “Chrismukkah is not intended to replace either.”

The Gompertzes began observing Chrismukkah officially last year.

Of course they only started celebrating it last year — that was the first time there even was a holiday called Chrismukkah. While the blending of the two December occasions has been a long American tradition, last year is the first time the combo-holiday got an official name. Lexicographers (and readers of The Journal) will recall that Josh Schwartz, young Jewish creator of Fox’s teen campy drama, “The O.C.,” first coined the term for the lead interfaith poster-child character Seth Cohen (Adam Brody). Cohen pestered his entire family to get into the spirit of both holidays.

A national Jewish population survey, conducted by the United Jewish Communities (UJC) in 2000-01 and corroborated by an American Jewish Committee (AJC) survey, counted 5.2 million adult Jews living in the US and found that of all married ones, nearly one-third are married to non-Jews. The UJC poll further reported that nearly half of all Jewish newlyweds within the past five years had chosen non-Jewish spouses.

But this year, with the eight days of Chanukah celebrated from Dec. 8-15, the Jewish holiday ends way before Christmas begins. So maybe we don’t need Chrismukkah after all.

Skip the Socks, Think Sushi Candles


What do you get the person who has everything? There is always someone on your list that gives you a hard time, the person who would appreciate something more creative and less generic. The chocolate gift baskets are too businessy and the gift certificate is too impersonal. So what to do? Get the gift that screams Jewish festivity and thoughtfulness; the gift that is kitchy, creative and will surely be a conversation piece at your Chanukah celebration.

Harvey Magila: All you have to do is clap your hands and
Harvey Magila will do the rest. This sonic-activated doll in full rabbi regalia
sings and shimmies to “Hava Nagila.” Young or old, this gift will make you laugh
your latkes off. $14.99. “>www.runningpress.com .

Hanukkah Autograph Dog: Are you going to a Chanukah party
and sick of bringing along a boring bottle of wine? You’ll be the most creative
of the bunch with this Hanukkah Autograph Dog. Pass it around the party and have
each guest sign it with a cute note as a keepsake. Memories are always the best
gift for the person who has everything. $11.95. “>www.judaicaworldwide.com .

Catnip Gefilte Fish and Kosher Dog Bone: Forget the new
ball of yarn and the rawhide bone, this year get your kitty a Gefilte Fish
Catnip Plush Toy, and your pup a Kosher Plush Bone. Both toys squeak and will
remind your furry friends that they, too, can celebrate Chanukah. Fish: $3.95.
“>www.stupid.com .

Chan-U-Cats Musical Collectible: Singing cats may be a
bit cheesy, but it’s the holidays — so anything goes. Chan-U-Cats is the perfect
gift for someone who loves kitchy collectibles. If your auntie is sick of
crystal dreidels and is difficult to please, the kippah-wearing cat quartet that
sings “The Dreidel Song” will put you on her good side. $26.95. “>www.judaicaworldwide.com .

Sushi Roll Candles: Everyone loves candles and they fit
the holiday theme, but make them unique this year. For your friend who loves
candlelight, but doesn’t need another ordinary one, get the sushi roll candle
set. Made of 100 percent beeswax, these hour-long lasting candles look edible in
their container — and come complete with chopsticks. $20. “>www.judaicaworldwide.com .

The Jewish Golf Ball Set: For the golfing enthusiast,
this set of Chanukah golf balls adds nicely to his or her collection. A little
fun and outlandish, you can use them in a game or display them at your holiday feast. $28.

Gift-Giving


It was an innocent batch of chocolate chip cookies that started what I’ve come to call “The Great Gift-Giving War.”

The couple that manages my apartment complex couldn’t be nicer. An older Japanese woman and an even older Polish war veteran live just across the hall from me. He is the tallest senior citizen I’ve ever seen, a hearty 6-footer who fixes light bulbs while leaning on his walker wearing a baseball cap. He has smoked so long, nicotine lingers in the hallway hours after he’s gone, a kind of carcinogenic perfume. His eyes remind me of Frank Sinatra.

His wife, about 2 feet shorter, smiles at me whenever she sees me, flashing several missing teeth.

They take packages for me when I’m not around to sign for them. They make sure no one parks in my space. They’re good people.

Just after I moved in, I knocked shyly on their door and mentioned that my oven wasn’t working. The very next day it was fixed. Grateful for the timely attention and perhaps wanting to do a little Skinnerian positive reinforcement, I whipped up a batch of cookies.

It was nothing, really. Okay, I got a little Martha Stewart and taped a simple flower to the plastic wrap over the paper plate. Still, it wasn’t like I bought the woman a Rolex. Just a little thank-you gift.

I had no idea what I was getting into. The next day, Suzi knocked on my door with a bunch of flowers. Two days later, she delivered a white paper bag full of pastries from the Japanese bakery.

“Mom, I’m in a gift-giving war, and I’m losing,” I said over the phone.

“You better drop off a bottle of wine or something,” she responded, a tinge of worry in her voice.

My mother is the best gift-giver I’ve ever known. She remembers something you mentioned you wanted when you were six. She knows if you collect pug memorabilia or frogs or decorative plates. She knows what kind of chocolate you like, what colors look good on you, what size you wear. There’s no trouble she won’t go to.

Her parents were Communists and foreigners to boot. They had no clue about gift-giving and thought it was frivolous. One year, they got my mom a bicycle in November and said, “That’s your Chanukah gift.”

Luckily for my brother and me, she rebelled. Our Chanukah gifts were thoughtful, perfect, more than she could afford. My mother still starts shopping for those perfect eight trinkets in July. I have the ice blue pashmina I couldn’t find, the perfume they stopped making, French cotton underwear you can only find at one store on earth.

My mother is an Olympian at generosity, and I’m like the slow, chubby guy just trying to make it around the track.

One morning, Suzi caught me on my way to work and asked if I could help her draft a will. I went on the Internet and downloaded all the information I could find. I asked around for phone numbers of affordable lawyers. I called the American Association of Retired People for advice. I delivered a comprehensive packet of information and felt that I had finally reciprocated. The war was over.

The next day, a bag full of oranges was on my doorstep. The day after, some sort of Japanese meat pie and two persimmons were left in a bag hanging on my doorknob.

Thinking I might be unaware of some Japanese gift-giving etiquette, I went online and consulted “Passport, Japan.”

“The Japanese are enthusiastic gift givers,” it read. “Saying ‘thank you’ for a favor is considered inadequate and possibly insincere.” What’s more, the article advised, giving too good a gift is “liable to oblige the recipient to reciprocate with a gift of even greater value.”

Great.

My mom called. “I’m in a gift-giving war myself,” she sighed. “I don’t know what to do.” A new friend had given her a vase. But that wasn’t the worst part. The vase was my mother’s exact taste, the same style as a little green and pink statue she has in her living room. She had met her match.

“What do I do?” she asked. We discussed possible strategies. As in any war, there is intelligence gathering that must be done. My mother, like any good spy, would get some reconnaissance done at her friend’s dinner party. She would not be outdone.

Meanwhile, my own war was escalating. At the sound of my door opening, Suzi would appear, gifts in hand. I would counter-attack. Still, I was losing. For every gift I managed, she struck with two or three. Remembering what I’d read online, I surrendered, politely refusing her gifts, starting a cease-fire. I let Suzi win.

That, my mom informed me, may have been the most generous gift of all.

I Wish It Were More


I am a lousy gift-giver. I’m bad enough on birthdays, when gift-giving makes me so nervous that my gifts never arrive on time. But I’m absolutely awful in December, when I feel so pressured by Chanukah expectations that I buy gift after gift for three of the people on my list, inadvertently leaving out everyone else. Maybe it’s a new kind of learning disability, Adverse Gift Disorder. But I mean well, I do.

It’s not that I don’t like gift-giving — or getting; it’s that I’m best when I’m spontaneous. I’ll pay for your dinner if the spirit moves me or buy you the perfect eyebrow brush because it’s just what you need. But gifts on demand…no, I never do it right.

As a single mom, all of my gift-giving idiosyncrasies are raised to new heights. Either I’m overcompensating for the father who isn’t there, being wildly extravagant, or I refuse to overcompensate for the father who isn’t there, giving nothing until my daughter suggests that a winter coat is what she needs. Even after all this time, time is out of joint.

My married friends don’t have it any easier, frankly. How could it be otherwise? Children read presents like Alan Greenspan reads the markets. They read a robust economy in the price of an iMac, and a coming depression in a gift certificate from Blockbuster.

That’s why gift-giving is as difficult to manipulate as the interest rate, and why a fixed financial position can best protect the most generous heart.

All of which makes me think of my grandfather, who was, in this one regard, surely Mr. Greenspan’s equal.

His solution to the gift-giving dilemma was simple: Grandpa gave me the identical gift, year after year, season after season. Whatever the special occasion, in good times or in bad, he’d hand me a check for $25, written in pen in his shaky, arthritic handwriting. Then he’d say immediately, “I wish it were more.”

Of course, $25 meant a lot to me when I was 8, but after I rubbed his stubbled cheek, I found his apology disconcerting.

“What’s wrong with Grandpa? Why does he wish it were more?” I asked my father, as if this was the last gift from him I’d ever receive. But it was just the first float in a long parade.

When I was 10, the check was still $25. With it, I could buy all the magazines I’d ever want, a year of milkshakes after Hebrew school, or a pair of shoes with small heels.

“I wish it were more,” Grandpa said. But I didn’t hear him, thinking that my new shoes should have an ankle strap.

When I was 15, the check was once again $25. We had entered the era of limits.

“I wish it were more,” he said. My friends had wealthier grandparents, and I knew what $25 meant by then. I’d imagine his bank account and consider that Grandpa had somehow totaled up all his grandchildren and divided it by the sum he had available and came up with $25 no matter what. He seemed a lot shorter by then.

But when Grandpa went home, I had time to consider. The check and the apology were one package by now — the check symbolizing constant familial love, the apology indicating that such love could never be counted or measured.

And, over time, I came to think that he was right. A gift from Grandpa, after all, was not just a gift, but a statement, a mandate, about the nature of life and what could be expected from it, a drumbeat of urgency telling me to get on and discover what life had in store: I wish it were more. I wish it were more. I wish it were more.

Soon, I’d stop thinking about the money altogether, even forgetting to cash the check.

And I understood why he apologized. For if he fulfilled every one of my dreams now, what is there left for tomorrow?

One year, my brother and I didn’t go to Brooklyn to visit him, and the check came via mail: $25.

“I wish it were more,” he said, when I called to thank him. I felt embarrassed and ungrateful, for I had given him nothing in return, not even the pleasure of my company.

So the point of the gift is not the giving or the receiving; it’s the pleasure of the company. There can never be enough time together. There can never be love fully expressed. Whatever I give or receive, I always wish it were more.


Join Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, this Sunday morning at the Skirball Cultural Center when her guest will be Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.