Hanukkah for Families

Eight days of fun.

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Hanukkah's proximity to Christmas can complicate the holiday. For those who try to make Hanukkah more like Christmas, it inevitably seems to fall short. Yet while Hanukkah was traditionally not one of the most central holidays of the Jewish calendar, it can, nonetheless offer many opportunities for fun and joyous celebration. Here are some suggestions for how you can make this Hanukkah memorable, while still staying true to the essential meaning of the holiday. 

Bringing Light out of Darkness

There are many ways to make this year’s Hanukkah a real "Festival of Light." As Rabbi Arthur Waskow writes in his book, Seasons of Joy, “Hanukkah is the moment when light is born from darkness, hope from despair.” Historically, this was reflected in the unlikely victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, in the oil that brought light for eight days instead of one, and in the very act of lighting candles during the darkest time of the year.

Before lighting candles, try taking your family on a night walk. Go outside together and feel how dark it is. Even in the city, the month of December has a special darkness to it. Then come in from the cold and light the hanukkiah (menorah).  Feel the contrast between the darkness outside and the light inside.

The oil in the Temple menorah--which was only enough for one day but miraculously lasted for eight--can be understood as an early example of energy conservation! One year, COEJL, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life sponsored a special program called “How Many Jews Does It Take to Change a Bulb?” The organization is helping Jewish institutions, families, and individuals purchase and install energy efficient, cost effective compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs during the week of Hanukkah. See coejl.org for more information.

Hanukkah is also a wonderful time to bring light into the lives of those around us. The winter months can be especially difficult for those who need help. Why not take come time this holiday to volunteer as a family at a local soup kitchen, shelter, or any place that is meaningful to you? Often, Jewish homes for the aged have Hanukkah parties or communal hanukkiah lightings. These are opportunities to connect your children with the older generation and help make the celebration more festive for the residents.

Get Creative

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

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Sarah Gershman

Sarah Gershman is a Teaching Fellow at the Partnership for Jewish Living and Learning in Rockville, MD. Sarah is the president of Green Room Speakers.