Making Chanukah with children meaningful

  • ChanukahJTAChildren
(JTA) While Chanukah is traditionally not one of the most central holidays of the Jewish calendar, it can offer many opportunities for fun. Here are some suggestions how you can make this Chanukah memorable while staying true to the essential meaning of the holiday.
by SARAH GERSHMAN | Dec 12, 2019

Bring light out of darkness

Chanukah is also a wonderful time to bring light into the lives of those around us. Why not volunteer as a family at a local soup kitchen, shelter, or any place that’s meaningful to you? Jewish homes for the aged often have Chanukah parties or communal menorah lightings. These are an opportunity to connect your children with the older generation, and help make the celebration more festive for the residents.

Get creative

Chanukah can be a great time for simple, fun family art projects. There is a custom for each member of the family to have his/her own menorah. This year, why not make your own? You can buy lots of small votive candles (yahrzeit candles are an inexpensive way to do this) and decorate the glass with a collage of colourful pieces of tissue paper. When the votives are lit, light shines through the tissue paper like stained glass. This is a great chanukiah for the Friday night of the holiday when the candles are supposed to burn for at least two hours. No matter what kind of chanukiah you use, try to place it in as visible a spot as possible to fulfil the mitzvah (good deed) of pirsumei nisa (publicising the miracle).

And don’t forget the decorations. Judaica stores sell lots of colourful Chanukah decorations that make the house feel more festive. You may want to choose your own theme. I know one family that decorates their house with homemade pictures of Jewish holiday objects, which symbolise to them the uniqueness of Judaism – definitely a theme of the holiday.

Make each night special

One of the wonderful things about Chanukah is that it lasts eight days. Giving each night a special theme can increase the excitement. Themes might include tzedakah (charity) night, sing-off night, party night and, of course, presents night. I know a family that eats a different kind of potato latke (pancake) for dinner each night. Apples, cauliflower, or even meat can be delicious additions to the traditional potato latke.

Cheese is also a great Chanukah food as it recollects the heroism of Judith, who cleverly fed Holofernes, a general fighting the Maccabees, salty cheese and wine. When the general promptly fell asleep, Judith cut off his head, and thereby saved her town from his tyranny.

Chanukah is also an ideal time to do fun activities like playing music, taking pictures, or making home movies documenting the annual celebration. One family I know drips Chanukah candle wax each night on their family album. Then, the following year, they take out the album, look at the wax, and try to remember where they were and what they did on each night.

Celebrate our uniqueness as Jews

One of the miracles of Chanukah is that the Jewish people were able to reconsecrate the Temple – our spiritual centre and a powerful symbol of our uniqueness. Chanukah today presents us with the opportunity to reconsecrate our own uniqueness as a religion, a people, and a culture.

Chanukah is a time to discuss as a family some of the blessings and challenges of being Jewish in this  country. One way to spark discussion on this subject is to watch a movie that in some way tackles the subject of assimilation. Some suggestions include My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Avalon, Keeping the Faith, The Jazz Singer, Monsoon Wedding and American Desi.

Have a joyous and meaningful Chanukah!


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