Hanukkah, also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, is an eight-day celebration honoring the Miracle of the Oil.
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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 its 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.
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.
Other traditions associated with Hanukkah are exchanging gifts on each of the eight nights, eating traditional foods, and playing dreidel.
Many traditional foods are fried in olive oil to represent the miracle of the burning oil lamp.
Two popular dishes are latkes, fried potato pancakes often served with applesauce and sour cream, and sufganiyot, sweet, jelly-filled donuts.
Dreidel, a popular Hanukkah toy, is a four-sided spinning top with the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hay, and shin.
The letters form the acronym for “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” which translates to “a great miracle happened there” (referring to the miracle of the oil).
- Every player begins with the same number of gelt– the Hebrew word for money (often chocolate coins in gold wrapping or another type of token are used) and puts one into a” pot” (the middle of the playing area).
- Players take turns spinning the dreidel. If it lands on nun, do nothing. Landing on gimmel means to take the whole pot. Hay means to take half the pot, and shin means to add one to the pot.
- The game is over when one person wins all of the gelt or tokens.
Hanukkah Book Connections
“‘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.”
On the first night of Chanukah a lucky boy receives a shiny new dreidel, but once it starts spinning it just won’t stop! With a mind of its own, the dreidel spins quickly across the floor, out the door, and on down the street, with its excited owner and family in hot pursuit. Soon the whole city joins the chase to catch the runaway toy. Where is that dreidel heading, and will it ever stop spinning? This is one journey worth pursuing right up to its magical conclusion! –Amazon
Click HERE for our free Runaway Dreidel Book Companion.
In the small blue room there was a bubbala, and a little shmatta,
and then—oy vey!—came the whole mishpacha!
This zesty parody of one of America’s favorite picture books offers a very different bedtime routine: one that is full of family exuberance and love. Instead of whispers of “hush,” this bedtime includes dancing and kvelling, and of course, noshing—because this little bunny is a Jewish bunny, and this joyous book celebrates the Jewish values of cherishing your loved ones, expressing gratitude, and being generous.
Filled with Yiddish words, the book includes a phonetic glossary and even an easy latke recipe by beloved cookbook author Ina Garten, who calls the book “brilliant, beautiful, important, and so much fun!” –Amazon
Sara wishes her family celebrated Christmas or at least had one of the pretty trees she sees at her friends’ houses. But at her family’s big Chanukah party, mysterious guest Tante Miriam gives Sara a one-of-a-kind gift: an enormous, golden dreidel. Miriam warns her to be careful, for when she spins it, she’s spinning miracles. Sara soon discovers there’s much more to the dreidel than meets the eye, and before long she’s spun herself into a whole new world–one of magical princesses, riddles, and demons. Can Sara discover her wisdom and rely on her courage to help a new friend and to find her way back home? The perfect Chanukah read! –Amazon
Print a free Activity Guide from Charlesbridge Publishing.
Baby discovers the science behind spinning a dreidel on Hanukkah! Accurate enough to satisfy an expert, yet simple enough for baby, this clever board book explores angular momentum, torque, friction, and gravity. Beautiful, visually stimulating illustrations complement age-appropriate language to encourage baby’s sense of wonder. Parents and caregivers may learn a thing or two as well. –Amazon
Print a free Activity Kit from Charlesbridge Publishing.
dreidel photo credit: urban_light, Deposit Photos