Hanukkah: The Jewish Festival of Lights

Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish celebration honoring the Miracle of the Oil.

The word Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to dedicate.” Over 2,000 years ago, the Jews won a battle for religious freedom and lit an oil lamp as part of the celebration. It only had enough oil to light their holy light for one night, but it miraculously burned for eight days.

It became a yearly tradition to remember, or “dedicate,” the day with an eight-day Festival of Lights. One candle is lit for each night of the celebration using a menorah – a nine-branch candelabrum.  The tallest candle in the center of the menorah is the shamash (servant) which is used to light the other candles.  The candles are placed in the menorah from right to left and are lit from left to right.

menorah

  • Fun Fact: The world’s largest Hanukkah menorah, measuring 32-feet high and weighing 4,000 pounds, can be seen in New York City’s Central Park during the Festival of Lights.
  • Activity: Color a menorah online, print one to color, or get crafty and make a menorah with popsicle sticks or handprints.

There are a number of other traditions associated with Hanukkah, including exchanging gifts on each of the eight nights, eating traditional foods and playing dreidel.

Traditional food is fried in olive oil to represent the miracle of the burning oil lamp. Latkes, fried potato pancakes, are a popular dish and often served with applesauce and sour cream. Sufganiyotsweet, jelly-filled donuts, are popular as well.

latkes   hanukkah donuts

Dreidel, a popular Hanukkah toy, is a four-sided spinning top with the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay and shin.

dreidels

To Play Dreidel

  1. Every player begins with the same number of gelt– the Hebrew word for money (often chocolate coins in gold wrapping or other type of token are used) and puts one into a” pot” (the middle of the playing area).
  2. Players take turns spinning the dreidel. If it lands on nun, do nothing.  Landing on gimel means to take the whole pot.  Hay means to take half the pot, and shin means to add one to the pot.
  3. The game is over when one person wins all of the gelt, or tokens.

dreidel

  • Activity: Make your own dreidel.
  • Activity: Learn the dreidel song with this freebie from  Sunny Days in Second Grade.
  • Book: ‘Twas the first night of Chanukah, and on the fifth floor,/There was holiday hustling and bustling galore./Grandma was slicing up two chocolate babkas,/Grandpa was grating potatoes for latkes.”   The Runaway Dreidel by Leslea Newman is a fun story to share!

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