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The origins of Hanukkah. Photo: Good Housekeeping

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah starts on the 25th of Kislev, a month in the Hebrew calendar that usually falls within November or December. Also known as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication, the holiday celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean revolt against the Syrian-Greek army. The holiday takes place for eight nights and days, commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple, according to abc7new.

The Origins of Hanukkah

Hanukkah commemorates a historical event that took place in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE, when the Seleucid Greek empire was the ruling power. In 168 BCE, the king Antiochus IV Epiphanes outlawed Jewish practice and defiled the Jewish Temple in the city by installing an altar to Zeus Olympios and sacrificing pigs.

A small army of Jews, known as the Maccabees, rebelled against this religious persecution. They regained control over the Temple, removed the symbols of Zeus and built a new altar so they could once again offer sacrifices in keeping with Jewish law.

According to a legend recounted in the Talmud, a compilation of 3rd to 6th century Jewish teachings, a miracle occurred at this time.

There was only enough oil to keep the Temple’s menorah, one of its most important ritual objects, burning for one day. But the flame stayed alight for eight days, until a new supply of oil could be found - the basis for the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, as said by The Conversation.

10 Hanukkah Activities for Family

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Hanukkah activities for family. Photo: Britanica

The following activities are designed to delight the whole family and enrich your Hanukkah celebration, Behrman House cites.

1. Make Your Own Menorah: Create a hand-made menorah for your family to light this Hanukkah. Search the Internet for menorah kits or mold a menorah out of clay. Have fun decorating the menorah with paint and glitter.

2. Make an Edible Menorah: Bake one batch of brownies. Give each family member a long, rectangular brownie. Invite the “Hanukkah chefs” to create their own unique edible menorah using various treats such as licorice pieces to serve as candles, butterscotch chips to serve as flames, marshmallow filling to glue everything together, and any other candy or treat of your choice. Try a healthier version using half of a celery stalk as a base, baby carrots as candles, raisins as flames, and peanut butter to glue everything together. B’tei’avon! Good appetite!

3. Fry Up Some Latkes: Search online or ask friends and family for latke recipes. Stir up the batter, fry the latkes, and enjoy. Spice up your holiday by searching for latke recipes that use a main ingredient other than potato. How about zucchini, sweet potatoes, carrots, or even cheese latkes? Try making a few recipes and let your family judge which recipe is the most delicious.

4. Host a Dreidel Spinoff: After lighting the Hanukkah candles, gather together as a family for a dreidel spinoff. Let each family member spin a dreidel. Using a stop watch, record the time each dreidel spins. If your dreidel spins the longest, you win. Consider adding the “Dreidel Spinoff” to the more traditional dreidel game. For example, if your dreidel spins the longest, you win the “pot.”

5. Fill Your Home with the Sights and Sounds of Hanukkah: Invite your children to create drawings of the Hanukkah story and make Hanukkah decorations. Use these or store-bought items to decorate your home. Create an annual tradition of taking a family photograph at Hanukkah. Hang the photographs in chronological order so that everyone can see how the family has grown and matured. Fill your home with song. A broad array of Hanukkah music can be purchased at Judaica stores, book stores, and on the Internet. Add to the festive spirit of the holiday by playing and singing your favorites—at home and in the car.

6. Say Goodnight with a Hanukkah Story: Each night of Hanukkah before bedtime, gather together as a family to read a Hanukkah story. If you have young children, you might read Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat by Naomi Howland (Clarion), When Mindy Saved Hanukkah by Eric Kimmel (Scholastic), or The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate by Janice Cohn (Albert Whitman & Company). If you have older children, consider “The Maccabees’ Sister” as told by Rabbi Ed Feinstein in Capturing the Moon (Behrman House). Be on the lookout for Hanukkah tales published in Jewish magazines or your local Jewish newspaper.

7. Give a Gift to Those in Need: Take your child shopping for a gift to give to someone less fortunate. Encourage your child to pick out a gift that he or she would like to receive. Then, let your child donate that gift to a local hospital or charitable organization. You might also plan with your extended family to each put aside a weekly donation in a family tzedakah box. (Before Shabbat on Friday afternoons would be the perfect time!) Then, at Hanukkah, pool the money and donate it to a children’s aid organization. Gather together the children and provide them with a list of charities. Let them choose where they want to donate their collective Hanukkah gift.

8. Tell the story of Hanukkah in a new way: Draw a cartoon of the Hanukkah story. Compose a song for the whole family to sing together. Act out the story, or perform a puppet show. Be sure to have costumes for the actors or puppets. You could also write the story in newspaper format, with bold headlines and a variety of articles, interviews, and features.

9. Design a family coat of arms: The Maccabees were proud to be Jews. Their shields identified them as Jews. Create your own coat of arms, displaying your family pride. Draw a shield on a large piece of paper. Decorate it with pictures of your family, your favorite Jewish symbols and Jewish objects from your home. Include a rebus, pictograph or symbol for your last name.

10. Talk about miracles: Instead of ending the second blessing for Hanukkah candles with “she-asah nisim l'avoteinu ba'yamim ha-hem ba-z'man ha-zeh” (Who made miracles for our ancestors long ago at this time), some people say “ba-yamim ha-hem u-va-z'man ha-zeh” (long ago and in this time). Discuss the miracles in the Hanukkah story and the miracles in our lives today.

In the US especially, Hanukkah has become a widely recognised holiday. As well as lighting the National Menorah in Washington DC, the president hosts an annual Hanukkah party in the White House. In big cities like New York, parents of Jewish children are often invited into elementary school classrooms to explain Hanukkah to students. Hanukkah has even entered American popular culture. The classic children’s Hanukkah song “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel” has appeared in several episodes of South Park.
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