When I was a child, we didn’t celebrate Jewish holidays at home, except Passover. On Passover my grandparents, both very dedicated Communists, would get everyone together for a traditional feast, but without any religious components in it. I am hoping that my daughter will mark main Jewish holidays as part of her heritage, and we are celebrating all of them in home in secular manner according to this semi-joke, They tried to kill us, but failed, so let’s eat. So what do we do for Hanukkah in our secular household?
Reading Hanukkah Books
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We read many Hanukkah books over years, but these three return every Hanukkah:
What I love about It’s a Miracle by Stephanie Spinner is that it can be read like an Advent book – one mini-story every night. Each evening a grandma tells a story to her grandson, “an official candle lighter” of Hanukkah, and the book reaches an interesting ending on the last night when an extended family gets together for a big celebration. The story itself is not religious, but there are subtle messages about happy coincidences and/or Providence at work in the lives of this family.
Letter on the Wind by Sarah Marwhil Lamstein has the strongest religious undertones out of the three that we read each year. In a poor village struck by drought a pool illiterate man asks a scribe to write a letter from him to an Almighty asking for help. He sends a letter with the wind, and it ends up with a rich merchant who answers the call anonymously sending goods and a special present to the main character. There is more to the book, and I strongly recommend checking it out.
The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes by Linda Glaser is a completely secular story and focuses on sharing your life and your food with friends and neighbors. Smarty finds this book very funny, because the family making a big Hanukkah dinner continues to borrow things from their neighbor over an entire story. It’s not exactly like The Stone Soup story, because it’s always the same neighbor who provides missing ingredients for the meal. In the end even celebration itself is moving to her bigger house.
Developing Family Hanukkah Rituals
What I love about Hanukkah is that it lends itself well to a ritual to be followed year after year. On the first and last night we have latkes – potato pancakes that we usually don’t eat during the year. Then every night we set aside time after dinner to light the menorah and play dreidel. By the way, playing dreidel is great for developing math sense. I almost feel bad that it’s out for only 8 nights every year, but this is partially what makes Hanukkah time so special. And, yes, there is one present from us and from my parents on the first night of Hanukkah, but we are not giving presents on every night, considering that we are celebrating Christmas as well and more presents are coming Smarty’s way then.
Craft or Write
When my daughter was younger, I would come up with a craft for Hanukkah and other holidays. She is 7 now, and I believe in her being more self-led during her limited afterschool time and choosing what she wants to do. She just opened up her Rainbow Loom present from her birthday, and now we are all wearing blue-and-white Hanukkah bracelets. We also want to have an Advent journal this season, and since Hanukkah lasts through the first few days of December, there might be some Hanukkah stories in our Advent journal.
Your turn: Do you celebrate any heritage holidays? If yes, what are they?