Explore Hanukkah with kids this holiday season and teach them invaluable lessons about being human and our collective quest for God.
It’s December! How?? I’m not sure. Time flies when you’re having fun planning, shopping, cooking, eating and traveling. I hope you’re already enjoying a rich holiday season, making space for all those traditions you love.
What’s your favorite holiday tradition you just can’t celebrate without? Tell us in the comments below!
And speaking of traditions, I’ve got a whole bunch to tell you about Hanukkah.
Confusion About Hanukkah
Quite frankly, Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is commonly misunderstood by Christians. Often, we may imagine it’s sort of the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. It’s easy to understand why, since the two celebrations fall so close to one another.
But, what is Hanukkah really about? How can we help our children understand its story? And why talk about it with them?
Why Explore Hanukkah with Kids?
First, religious pluralism is simply a reality of our world. Second, our children can more deeply appreciate others’ faiths and their own when they learn another religion’s traditions.
Since Christmas is celebrated so readily by those who follow and shun Christianity, its festivities can overshadow the beauty of Hanukkah. And many who aren’t Jewish aren’t raised knowing Hanukkah’s meaning or significance.
So, how can we answer children’s questions when we don’t know much of anything about the holiday? Don’t worry, ICM’s got you covered.
Historical Roots of Hanukkah
Around 200 B.C., when the Israelites were living under Egyptian rule, Antiochus of Syria invaded Judea. He demanded the Israelites give up their religion and worship Greek gods. Then, he took over the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to Zeus.
Consequently, Judah Maccabee, one of the Israelites, led an army to fight against Syrian rule. After pushing the Syrians out, they reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem and began clearing it of their oppressors’ faith symbols.
While doing so, the Israelites found a tiny container of oil that could light the eternal flame they always kept lit in the Temple. They knew the oil they had would only be enough to burn for one night. Instead, to their surprise, it burned for eight nights until they could get more.
Hanukkah is the celebration of these 8 nights, the victory over the Syrian army, and God’s faithful provision to the Israelite people.
Fun Facts About Hanukkah
- The Apocrypha, not the Old Testament, outlines the story of Hanukkah.
- Hanukkah is eight nights long.
- A 9-armed menorah (or candelabra), called a hanukkiah, is lit each night of Hanukkah.
- The hanukkiah has one candle for each of the eight nights and one candle to light all the others.
- Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights.
- Fried foods, including latkes and jelly doughnuts, are eaten because they require oil for cooking.
- Some families give a present to one another each of the eight nights.
- Children and their families play a game with a wooden top called a dreidel.
Learning from Religious Tradition
Religious tradition is the response to an experience of the Divine that becomes rooted in a faith community’s practice. Consequently, we learn about ourselves and God when we explore religious traditions.
Just beneath the surface of a community’s traditions are treasures that have the potential to form and inform.
As a result, we give children a gift when we teach them about religious tradition. Throughout our human story, we have meandered after, beside and within the Divine. Each era and place give way to different ways of knowing God.
So, when we shed light on a religious tradition, like Hanukkah, we learn how people have known God during our human story. Then, we can bring together our own life experience with the knowledge of another time and place, and find new ways of understanding ourselves and God.
Talking About Hanukkah with Children
When we teach children the beauty held within Hanukkah we do several things.
We teach that God is ever-present, across all time and place. Stories of those who have quested after God teach children that in all the yesterdays, God was there. We help them understand that God is and will always be everywhere.
We teach that God protects and provides. Discussing the story of Hanukkah with kids teaches them that God protected the Israelites and gave them even more than they could have imagined. Children learn that this was true then, as well as now.
We teach the power of staying true to what one values. The story of Hanukkah tells of the Israelites risking their lives to protect their community and way of life. Children learn that no one should ever be made to withstand religious oppression and that one’s actions can help others for generations to come.
We teach that we’re all part of a widespread family of God-seekers. Teaching religious traditions, especially practices outside one’s own heritage, points to the way humanity together quests for God. Children learn that no matter their religion they are part of an even bigger faith family than they realized.
We hope you’ve found this helpful in your own learning and in imagining how you might gift your kids with even more depth and beauty this Hanukkah and beyond. Happy celebrating!
Don’t forget to tell us what your favorite holiday tradition is in the comments below!