How to Teach Children the Meaning of Hanukkah

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A close-up of a lit Menorah.
Image Credit: arinahabich/iStock/Getty Images

Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is an eight-day Festival of Lights celebrated by people of Jewish culture and faith. Hanukkah begins on the 25th of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. Since the Hebrew calendar is lunar rather than solar, Hanukkah falls on a different day each year. Teaching children about the holiday may be both educational and entertaining.


The Hanukkah Celebration

Hanukkah is celebrated in memory of a military victory in 165 B.C., when the Jewish Maccabees drove the Syrian army out of Jerusalem to reclaim their temple. The celebration embodies a spirit of maintaining religious freedom. Teaching children about this core element of Hanukkah should involve a discussion around assimilation and the preservation of culture and faith. Plan an activity with the kids where you make Star of David magnets and discuss your faith and the right to practice it. Make or purchase a stencil to use, cutting out the star on both construction paper and magnet sheets, then glue the two together. Paste in photos of family members into the center to personalize.


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Menorahs and Dreidels

Lighting the menorah each of the eight nights symbolizes how after their victory, the Macabees set out to light an "eternal flame" to rededicate their temple. They only had enough oil to burn for one day but miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. Originally a game for adults, the dreidel was adapted to Hanukkah as a top-like toy to help teach children about miracles. The dreidel has four sides, with the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay and shin. These four sides symbolize the Hebrew phrase Nes gadol hayah sham, "A great miracle happened there." Use the menorah lighting each night and a game of dreidels as an opportunity to talk to your child about miracles.


Foods and Culture

Fried foods are traditional during Hanukkah because of the symbolism of the sacred oil. Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (sweet jelly-filled doughnuts) are common Hanukkah foods. Teach children how to make these holiday treats and discuss tradition, culture and family while doing so. Another Hanukkah tradition is giving the children gelt, which is Hebrew for "money," each of the eight nights of the holiday to teach the kids about charity. Modern celebrations sometimes use gifts such as toys in place of money. No matter what kind of gift you choose to give your child, use it as an opportunity to discuss charity, community and family.


Other Hanukkah Activities

Another activity you can do with children to teach about Hanukkah is holiday-themed potato printings. Carve symbols such as dreidels and the Star of David into potato halves. Dip them into paint and stamp them onto construction paper. Invite kids to make Hanukkah Wish Stars by crafting gold paper together into triangles, then assembling two triangles to make a six-sided star. Have them think about wishes for the year to come while doing so. Print Hanukkah-themed coloring pages from the Internet. Display the finished projects around the house.


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