Holidays give us a wonderful opportunity share Jewish traditions and stories with our children. In the process we create warm memories that can last a lifetime and will hopefully inspire them to create new memories with their own children.
Hanukkah, which is sometimes called The Festival of Lights, is one such holiday. It falls every year in late November or December on the secular calendar and lasts for eight days and nights. During this time we remember how our ancestors reclaimed the holy Temple from the Syrian-Greeks and then rededicated it to God. You can learn more about Hanukkah in: What is Hanukkah?
In addition to lighting the Hanukkah menorah together, below a few ways you can celebrate Hanukkah with your children. Some of the ideas are traditional ones, while others are more modern examples of how we might share Hanukkah with our loved ones.
Play the Dreidel Game
In order to play the dreidel game all you need is a dreidel and some gelt. A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side. While gelt usually refers to chocolate coins wrapped in either gold or silver foil. Children of all ages can enjoy playing this game. Even the youngest baby will enjoy watching the dreidel as it spins on its axis, while older children will have no trouble getting excited about the prospect of winning chocolate coins. You can learn how to play the dreidel game at the bottom of this article about the history of the dreidel: What is a Hanukkah Dreidel?
In addition to playing the dreidel spinning game, you can also have a dreidel "spin off." In order to play this game each person usually has their own dreidel (nothing fancy, small plastic dreidels will do) then they compete against each other to see whose dreidel spins the longest. Have people pair up and spin their dreidels, with the winner from each pair going to compete against another champion. Continue until you have only two spinners left. These two spinners will compete against each other, with the person whose dreidel spins the longest being declared the dreidel-spinning champion. (You can even find t-shirts with something akin to "World Champion Dreidel Spinner" to give out as prizes.)
Make Latkes and Sufganiyot
The central miracle in the Hanukkah story is that of the Hanukkah oil, which miraculously lasted for eight days when it should only have lasted one. As a result, fried foods have become traditional fare on Hanukkah with latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (donuts) being the most common foods.
Depending on your child's age, they can help you prepare these foods. Toddlers can help add pre-measured ingredients to a bowl and can even help form the latkes or knead sufganiyot dough. This recipe for Nutella-filled Hanukkah beignets not only offers a twist on traditional Hanukkah donuts, but includes instructions for ways that children can help make the beignets. Older children can, of course, offer even more in the way of assistance in the kitchen.
Read Hanukkah Books Together
Reading books together is a wonderful holiday activity. You can read one Hanukkah book a night or designate one night of Hanukkah as the "book reading" night. However you go about it, choose colorful books with lively text and make the experience something special for your family. Serve hot chocolate, cuddle beneath warm blankets and make an effort to demonstrate how much you love each other. Adult readers can have fun with dramatic voices, while older children can have a turn at reading themselves.
For ideas about what books to read on Hanukkah, you might like: Hanukkah Books for Toddlers and Young Children.
Hanukkah has many traditions associated with it so why not make a Hanukkah calendar that counts them down? Every night children can take a tradition from that night's pocket and that is the family activity for the evening.
The Land of Nod sells a Hanukkah countdown calendar that comes with eight pockets, each for putting a Hanukkah tradition in. You can also find inspiration for DIY Hanukkah calendars and Hanukkah tradition ideas in this blog post from Sweet Happy Life: 18 Hanukkah Calendar Ideas I Love.
Hanukkah Helpers are plush dolls made by a company called Elf Magic. According to the company's Hanukkah Helper Instructions, the helpers magically arrive in time to celebrate Hanukkah with children. They love spinning the dreidel, eating latkes and come with an introductory story that begins: "I'm a Hanukkah Helper your own special friend, To be here with you 'til the season ends! Let the dreidels start spinning and the latkes start turning, Oh... I can't wait to see candles burning!"
Each night children leave a snack out for the helper and sprinkle them with Snowflakes that bring the helper to life while the family sleeps. The snowflakes are actually white paper confetti and when the helper comes to life parents can have fun inventing adventures for him or her. Children might awake to find their helper sitting amid golden gelt wrappers (he at the chocolate) or playing dreidel with another toy. Sweet Happy Life has a list of Hanukkah Helper Mischief ideas.
When Hanukkah ends the Helper disappears, only to return again the next year for another round of holiday fun. It's a cute way to add a bit of mischief to your Hanukkah celebration and a tradition that younger children are sure to enjoy.