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Getting Ready for Hanukkah

As each Jewish holiday rolls around, I wonder what our expanding, diverse family might enjoy, based on ages, interests, and background.  (And we’ve got a huge mix!)

For the first time at Rosh Hashanah dinner, for example, we used Bugles (the salty, crunchy snack food) to pretend that we were blowing the shofar, through a series of tekiahs, shevarims, and teruahs. Everyone at the table, except the baby, played along. One Passover, we wrote a bluegrass welcome song, played on banjo and guitar.

For Hanukkah this year, I’d like to add an oil menorah to our collection of hanukkiyahs, to reinforce the idea of the oil lasting eight days.

If you have young children in your family, ages 4 to 10, these three key Hanukkah concepts are good as starting points: light, miracle, and oil.

The light idea is easy to bring to life, just by lighting Hanukkah candles all eight nights of the holiday. You can also place the menorah in the window (facing the dark of the winter sky), showcasing the twinkling of the lit candles. To make this experience even more captivating – to get that hushed sense of awe – you can turn off the overhead lights in your room and watch the flames dance.

Most children these ages can also understand that the miracle of Hanukkah grows with each night, as we light one more candle. At least, they get that the illumination from the menorah is more and more dramatic.  You can expand on this by explaining that the Hebrew letters on the dreidel stand for the phrase “a great miracle happened there.” Nun for “nes,” gimel for “gadol,” hey for “haya,” and shin for “sham.” For older children, you can even explain that in Israel, dreidels replace the shin letter with the peh letter, standing for “poh” or here.

For oil, the classic tradition is to fry latkes (potato pancakes) in oil. You can also make or buy jelly doughnuts, which are fried in oil. And you can have a discussion about how amazed the Maccabees must have been to see that the oil from the one small jug burned for eight days.

But you can really take this idea further by getting a menorah that burns oil.  That’s my plan for this year. So far, we’ve just used candles – both mutli-colored kind and the elegant blue-and-white ones from Safed. But never oil.

I got inspired to do this when I learned about a book called Harvest of Light by Allison Ofanasky.  Good for grades 1 -3, it takes you through the steps of how an Israeli family harvests olives to be processed into oil.  And the story is told from the daughter’s perspective of gathering and sorting the olives to pressing them and then, finally, using that special oil to light the menorah.

So for us, an oil menorah is on the shopping list. And we’ll also be making edible dreidels for the first time.  (A recipe for this is in our Hanukkah Helper Box.)

For more Hanukkah ideas and games for your family or as gifts, use code BJN at checkout for free shipping through December 15th.

Wishing you the best Hanukkah ever!

Ellen Zimmerman, Jewish Holidays in a Box

About Ellen Zimmerman

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