Seasonal identity disorder

Jews who want to maintain their identity and sanity have two options during December.

They can cringe every time they hear "The 12 Days of Christmas" piped into the supermarket, department store and fast-food restaurant. They can silently curse when someone wishes them "Merry Christmas."

They can complain on end about the commercialization, the frenzy of shoppers and the mindless giving. They can roll their eyes when they channel-surf past yet another Christmas special.

Or they can just decide to enjoy the joy of others. They can finally accept that all the Jewish griping in the world won't stop Christmas.

What is not an option is turning Chanukah into Christmas. That's especially alluring during years like this one when the Jewish calendar awkwardly aligns with the secular calendar, placing the second and third nights of Chanukah on Dec. 24 and 25.

Jewish children suddenly receive presents at the "right" time. Jews get a day off from work during Chanukah. They have something they can rightfully celebrate on the national holiday.

So how do families make sure Chanukah means more than presents, presents and more presents? At the same time, how do families avoid distorting Chanukah so that in their children's eyes it becomes "our Christmas"?

For one, families should plan activities around Chanukah that include more than just latke eating, dreidel spinning and gift grabbing.

Once kids start playing with new toys, everyone knows that activity becomes the sole focus of the evening.

Families, couples, singles — whoever you are — can get together and retell the story of Chanukah after they light candles. They can act out the story. They can create Chanukah charades. They can sing Chanukah songs.

And during the rest of the year, Jews can focus that same positive attention on the remaining cycle of endlessly rich Jewish holidays.