Hanukkah Traditions for Kids

Young boy playing dreidel
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Holidays give Jews a wonderful opportunity to share traditions and stories with their children. In the process, families create warm memories that can last a lifetime and perhaps inspire children to create future memories with their own children.

Hanukkah, which is sometimes called The Festival of Lights, is one such holiday. It falls every year in late November or December on the secular calendar and lasts for eight days and nights. During this time, Jews remember how their ancestors reclaimed the Holy Temple from the Syrian-Greeks and then rededicated it to God. 

In addition to lighting the Hanukkah menorah together, there are several other ways Jews can celebrate Hanukkah with their children, as described below. Some of the ideas are traditional ones, while others are more modern examples of how the joy of Hanukkah can be shared with loved ones.

Play the Dreidel Game

In order to play the dreidel game, all you need is a dreidel and some gelt. A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side; gelt usually refers to chocolate coins wrapped in either gold or silver foil. Children of all ages can enjoy playing this game—even the youngest baby will enjoy watching the dreidel as it spins on its axis, while older children will have no trouble getting excited about the prospect of winning chocolate coins. 

In addition to playing the dreidel spinning game, you can also organize a dreidel "spin-off." In order to play this game, give each person their own dreidel (nothing fancy, small plastic dreidels will do), then have them compete against each other to see who can spin their dreidel the longest. You can have people pair off in one-against-one contests, then have the winners from each pair move forward until a champion is named. If you wish, you can even award printed T-shirts ("Dreidel Champion") or small trophies as prizes. 

For a fun variation, have kids make their own dreidels out of clay. Be sure to sing "I Have a Little Dreidel" if you do this one!

Make Latkes and Sufganiyot

The central miracle in the Hanukkah story is that of the Hanukkah oil, which miraculously lasted for eight days when it should only have lasted one. As a result, fried foods have become traditional fare on Hanukkah, with latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (donuts) being the most common foods.

Depending on the age of the children, they may be able to help you prepare these foods. Toddlers can help add pre-measured ingredients to a bowl and can even help form the latkes or knead sufganiyot dough. Nutella-filled Hanukkah beignets offer a twist on traditional Hanukkah donuts. Older children can, of course, offer even more in the way of assistance in the kitchen.

Read Hanukkah Books Together

Reading books together is a wonderful holiday activity. You can read one Hanukkah book each night of the holiday, or designate one night of Hanukkah as the "book reading" night. However you go about it, choose colorful books with lively text and make the experience something special for your family. Serve hot chocolate, cuddle beneath warm blankets and make an effort to demonstrate how much you love one another. Adult readers can have fun with dramatic voices, while older children can take a turn at being the reader.

Hanukkah Calendars

Hanukkah has many traditions associated with it, so why not make a Hanukkah calendar that counts them down? Every night, children can take a tradition from that night's pocket, setting the family activity for the evening.