How To Celebrate Hanukkah
Photo by Matija Barrett
Hanukkah, aka Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, the Feast of Dedication etc, is a fun holiday to celebrate, and it is an excellent opportunity to teach your children more about the miracles of God. (See my last post about why we celebrate…)
As Christmas and Hanukkah are close together, it is somewhat difficult for Christians to celebrate without getting holiday burn out. For this reason we typically have one larger celebratory night and then light the candles only, on other nights. For small children, without much of an attention span, celebrating with small gifts all eight nights sometimes takes the edge of the Christmas craziness…. your choice.
As the Jewish calendar does not line up with the calendar we currently use in the US you will need to google when Hanukkah occurs. You will also need a menorah, aka a Hanukiah, candles and a dreidel. Chocolate coins, known as ‘gelt,’ are also nice for small children. The chocolate is usually of a very cheap variety and will not impress your teens…
An 8 stem menorah is placed in a window. Each night at dusk it is lit from right to left (Hebrew is read from right to left, unlike English). The menorah actually has 9 candles. The extra candle, either in the middle or off to the side, is the slave or servant candle. This candle is lit first and is used to light the other candles. The first night only one candle is lit, the second two etc. The slave candle is also left lit. Hanukkah candles are made to last approximately one hour and burn completely down. Cleaning the menorah of wax is… interesting. (This is not the same menorah that sits in the Temple. The Temple menorah has seven flames and is filled with oil.) Typically the menorah is lit by the mother. A blessing over the candles is said. She then sits for at least 30 minutes while the husband serves the meal. This is to remind us that the victory over the enemy was delivered through the hands of a woman, Judith. The husband may make the entire meal, or merely serve it. This is to prompt the children to ask why mom sits, when she is busy every other night. Jewish traditions often set up situations to prompt the children to ask questions about godly things.
Food: Since this is a holiday which features a miracle of oil, fried foods are king. Potato latkes and jelly donuts are traditional. Feel free to make your own traditions. I like serving olives, from which the oil is made.
Games: The dreidel. A dreidel is a 4 sided top. If you are very creative you can make your own with your children. Otherwise you can buy one- they are relatively inexpensive. Each side has a Hebrew letter. As I do not have a Hebrew type setting, you will have to google this. In the US the 4 letters stand for ‘a miracle happened there.’ In Israel there is a slight difference and the letters stand for ‘a miracle happened here.’
To start everyone puts one piece into the center pot. This can be your gelt (chocolate coins), or pennies, or any other small item you wish to use.
Shin: it looks like a 3 pronged menorah, or w. When you land on shin you put a piece into the pot.
Hey: this looks like an n, a table or a house. If you land on this you take half of the pot. (If it is odd, take the extra.)
Gimmel: This looks like a boot. You take the entire pot. Everyone then places one piece into the pot.
Nun: This looks like a backwards c. You do nothing.
The dreidel game is not meant to be exciting. It was traditionally used to hide the fact that the Jewish people in captivity were teaching their children the Torah, which was against the law. When a stranger approached they resumed the game. The game was uninteresting enough that the foreigners did not want to join in. There are ancient texts with snippets mentioning the Jewish obsession with that boring game!
Music: There is a lot of Hanukkah music- google it and find your favorites. My favorite is The Hanukkah Song by the Bare Naked Ladies on their holiday album, Bare Naked for the Holidays, which contains a lot of interesting, unique Christmas songs as well. (I know, who would have thought a band called Bare Naked Ladies would be the one doing a great job here!)
The candle blessing: If you wish to do this in Hebrew google it and listen to the proper pronunciation, or listen to the Bare Naked Ladies song….. The blessings vary, depending on who you ask, and can vary by night. I do not use the blessings that imply that following the commandments makes us in relationship with God, though it is an important part of the relationship…
Here it is a blessing you can use in English:
Praised (blessed) are you, our God, ruler of the universe, who performed wonderful deeds for our ancestors in those ancient of days at this season.
You can add your own personal prayers as well, thanking God for the small ways He provides for you as well.