Hanukkah arrives at the darkest time of the year, when daylight is in short supply, but the miracles that God performed for us thousands of years ago light our path to a festive, meaningful celebration. Hanukkah is a fun, delicious (fattening!) yet deeply spiritual holiday that is easy to share with friends and family.
Here are some ideas to light up your celebration during the eight nights of Hanukkah:
1. Give each child his or her own menorah. Children are especially proud of lighting menorahs they make themselves, and they can be made simply and creatively. During one of the last nights, when the room is bright with Hanukkah lights, take a family photograph. This custom can become a treasured chronicle of how your family grows over the years.
2. Be here now. Take plenty of time after lighting candles to enjoy being with family. Sing Hanukkah songs: Ma Ozur, Haneiros Halalu, and any others you enjoy. Stay “unplugged” from your smart phones while the candles are burning. Savor this special time together. When you’ve sung everything you feel like singing, bring on the gifts and dig into those hot latkes and sufganiot!
3. Talk up the miracles. Hanukkah means both “dedication” and “education,” so retell the story of the great Hanukkah miracles, both hidden and open. Buy a Hanukkah or Judaica-themed book for your children each year – you will build a nice holiday book collection, and reserving them for the holidays makes them seem new again for the children. For older children and adults, set a challenge for everyone to find a new Hanukkah insight to share. Every year there are new things to learn!
4. Let Mom rest. Part of the Hanukkah victory is credited to Yehudit, a daughter of Yochanan the High Priest and father of the Hasmonean family. During the time of the Maccabean revolt, Yehudit bravely and cleverly earned the trust of a Syrian-Greek general named Holofernes, convincing him that she would bring him valuable information that would help him defeat the Jewish uprising. Instead, like the heroine Yael who slew Cicera, Yehudit fed Holfernes wine and cheese until he fell into a deep slumber. She then unsheathed his sword and killed him, saving untold numbers of Jews. In deference to the heroism of Yehudit, it is a custom for women not to work while the candles are burning. This is a challenge for many women who are not used to sitting still, so it’s up to other family members to ensure that their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers actually just sit and enjoy!
5. Let the games begin! Along with the traditional dreidel game, make up your own: Hanukkah-themed word searches, Bingo, quizzes, and other games are a fun way to involve all family members, as well as guests at your Hanukkah party. Did you know that the dreidel traces its lineage all the way back to the time of the Syrian-Greek rule over Israel? Since Torah study had become a crime punishable by death, Jewish children hid in caves in order to study. When Greeks would approach to see what they were up to, out came the spinning tops, which the children pretended they were engrossed in playing. Visit http://www.aish.com/h/c/f/ for more great activities.
6. Jingle gelt, Jingle gelt. No child is likely to let parents forget the custom of giving Hanukkah gelt, and not just the chocolate coins, either. In some communities a little gelt is given each night. Why money as gifts? One answer is that the Greeks did not destroy the oil from the Temple; they defiled it – a statement of their intent to infuse Greek ideas and ideals into Jewish life and Jewish possessions. Giving Hanukkah gelt reminds us of our freedom and obligation to use our material wealth for noble and spiritual ends. Underscoring this message, children are taught to give away some of their gelt to tzedakah.
7. Give thanks, modern-day Maccabees. Many families have the custom of taking one night and having everyone express what they feel grateful for, spiritually and materially. Feeling gratitude and expressing it are defining Jewish qualities, and what better time to do so than on the holiday that means “dedication”? Here’s another angle to this theme: Since Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish affirmation of our spiritual values, and a refusal to buckle to even harsh pressure to assimilate, discuss ways that you have found to stand up for Jewish values when they have been challenged.
8. Check out the neighborhood. If you live in a Jewish neighborhood and it’s not utterly freezing, take a walk and enjoy the sight of the dozens, if not hundreds, of menorahs spreading their beautiful, flickering lights in windows up and down your streets. The menorah is meant to be lit at the entryway of your home, visible to the street, to help publicize the miracle. Yet there have been times when it was dangerous for Jews to do so. We who live in lands of freedom can appreciate our ability to light our menorahs with pride and without fear, and to delight in the sight of endless Hanukkah lights spreading their special glow.