Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights, and while only some of us here at Parents Place are Jewish, we love lighting the menorah because it is an especially delightful celebration with children, and because Parents Place is a program of Jewish Family and Children’s Services.
The miracle of Hanukkah celebrates one night’s worth of oil bringing light for eight nights—as well as an ancient victory by the Maccabees over the Greek army and the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem.
This is a special time of year to build meaningful traditions with your family and create deeper, richer connections to foster appreciation for the small miracles which show up in our daily lives.
Here are some ideas to consider adding into your Hanukkah celebrations:
Day One: Remember the Meaning of Miracles
Lighting the first candle, saying prayers, hearing the Hanukkah story, so begins the first night. Take some time to explore what a miracle is and how it might show up, both big ones and small ones. Add the gift of a journal for everyone to write down the miracles they notice in the coming days (geese flying south, the color of the sky at sunset, a video call with Grandma 1000 miles away). Each family member can write at least one miracle every day.
Day Two: Appreciate Beauty and Art
There are thousands of art projects that you and your children could explore with just scissors, colored paper, and glue! Make dreidels into art pieces with felt, ribbons, and paint, or decorate candles with beeswax, etc. Spend the evening together having fun and creating handmade pieces to decorate your home in the coming days of Hanukkah. Or, you can also appreciate beautiful art made by others by looking through art books together. Click here to learn more about Hanukkah.
Day Three: Tzedakah Night
Spend time as a family discussing the meaning of tzedakah, charity and justice, and why we value giving to those in need. You can have the children wrap a few toys to bring to a toy drive for kids in need, or identify another charity, or a family, or individual who needs help. Together as a family you can decide what act or acts of charity can be done by your family over the holidays and come up with a plan.
Day Four: A Night of Cooking and Nourishment
Prepare together traditional foods for an extra special festive meal! Have family members pick one item, a new recipe or an old one, to prepare or bring. Make sure to involve your kids in the preparation, and talk to them about the meaning of the foods. Share your creations with friends and loved ones and nourish each other’s souls.
Day Five: Music Night
Sing Hanukkah songs, listen to your favorite Hanukkah music, or find a Hanukkah playlist on Spotify (there are several). Make this night about music and community!
Day Six: Story Night
Ask your older family members to attend this special evening of sharing. Each member of the family brings a story or a book highlighting Hanukkah. They can share their own history or read a favorite passage or poem. Ask the eldest family members what it was like growing up Jewish in his or her generation and what they did for Hanukkah as children; what’s changed and what’s stayed the same?
Day Seven: Peace in the Home, Shalom Bayit
Discuss the value of having a peaceful home and unity among family members. Everyone can bring ideas for what kind of communication works best to get along and show respect for one another. Take a mindful walk after dinner to look at holiday lights.
Day Eight: Mitzvot Night
Remember the miracle notebooks from the first night of Hanukkah? Get them out and request that your kids share the miracles they noticed. Also point out the kind deeds performed by family members over the past eight days in order to reinforce a sense of giving simply for the joy of giving. Reflect on the miracles that showed up and how your family might continue to remember all year long.
By introducing these fundamental values and concepts during Hanukkah you reinforce and celebrate “the festival of lights” all year long and deepen the connection of relationships, friendships, and gratitude.
Bonnie Romanow is a Parent Educator and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant at Parents Place in Marin County.