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What Is Hanukkah?I think Hanukkah is one of the most familiar Jewish holidays, because it fits neatly into Western culture. It usually happens in December and sometimes overlaps with Christmas. This year, in fact, Hanukkah will end on Christmas Eve. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire of the 2nd century BC. According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the high priest was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.
The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched menorah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The typical menorah consists of eight branches with an additional visually distinct branch. The extra light is called a shamash, and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest.
We are not at all a religious family, but we celebrate Hanukkah as a cultural holiday to celebrate Jewish roots of my part of the family. We also celebrate Christmas according to traditions that were brought over by my German husband, so our daughter gets the benefits of both holidays and enjoys extra crafts, books, special food, and presents of Hanukkah.
Read About HanukkahThere are many terrific books about Hanukkah. I pulled together a round up for you – 8 books for 8 nights of Hanukkah.
Hanukkah Books for Preschool Age
My First Chanukkah by Tomie dePaola is a simple board book perfect for youngest children. It focuses on holiday traditions, especially on playing dreidel and lighting the menorah.
Light the Lights by Margaret Moorman is good for families who celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas like we do. Again, the focus is on family traditions, Hanukkah history is included in an afterword.
The Best Hanukkah Ever by Barbara Diamond Goldin is not so much about Hanukkah, but about presents and what it means to pick a perfect gift for someone. The preschoolers will appreciate the comedy of errors that is happening for most of the book, and it can open a conversation with older kids about how to pick or make good gifts.
The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes is also not focusing on history behind the holiday but talks instead about specific tradition (making latkes, see below) and about celebrating holidays with your friends and family. It can open conversations about reaching out to lonely people during holiday times.
Hanukkah Books for School Age
A Hanukkah Storybook by Stephanie Spinner is our favorite Hanukkah book. We read it every Hanukkah since daughter was 3, but it is fairly long, and it is designed to be read over all 8 nights of Hanukkah. It is still not covering actual Hanukkah story, but it is an immersive experience into someone else’s Hanukkah celebration. Hanukkah history and traditional Hebrew blessings are given in the end of the book.
A Family Hanukkah by Bobbi Katz is also a long story better suited for independent readers, but yet again we read it together since preschool. This book actually weaves an explanation of Hanukkah origins into the main story line.
Letter on the Wind by Sarah Marwil Lamstein is the most religious of the books I chose to feature. A Jewish man in a poor village writes a letter to Almighty asking for help and sends it with the wind. The wind carries a letter far away and it ends up in the hands of a rich Jewish merchant. The story is rather complex and better suited for older kids, but the dreamy illustrations by Neil Waldman truly make this book spectacular.
Finally, One Candle by Eve Bunting is absolutely a story for older kids who already have an idea of what Holocaust is. We read it for the first time last year after my 7 year old daughter listened to the brief explanation of Holocaust in The Story of the World. This book approaches the topic of Holocaust sensitively and poignantly and tells the story of celebrating Hanukkah in a Nazi concentration camp. This book will bring tears to the eyes of anyone who can connect to the horror of what happened to the innocent civilians during the WWII, but this is definitely the story that needs to be told again and again to every new generation.
Hanukkah CraftsWe are not a very crafty family, but my daughter really enjoyed making this Star of David ornament when she was in preschool. We pull it out every year during Hanukkah time.
For more crafts and printables related to Hanukkah, visit this collaborative Hanukkah Pinterest board.
Hanukkah GamesAnother well known tradition of Hanukkah is playing dreidel games. In our family dreidel only comes out during Hanukkah and then goes away again, which makes dreidel games even more exciting. You can easily make your own dreidel and learn the rules from this dreidel printable.
Image courtesy slgckgc, Creative Commons 2.0
Hanukkah story is focused on holy oil that lasted for 8 days. Not surprisingly, traditional Hanukkah foods are fried in oil and not exactly healthy. However, as part of our Hanukkah tradition, I make latkes for the first and last day of Hanukkah and invite family friends to eat with us. Over years I perfected a recipe for making latkes with the Magic Bullet, which makes them much less of a hassle. Here is how I do them:
- Process 2 medium size potatoes (cut into thick pieces), 1 medium egg and 1 quarter slice of a medium onion in a Magic bullet. We usually make 3 portions of that (6 potatoes)
- Add 4 TBS of flour, and 1 tsp of salt. Mix salt and flower in.
- Fry latkes on high heat in sunflower or corn oil (not in olive oil, it smokes).
- Serve with traditional sides – sour cream and applesauce.