My first child was born about an hour before Hanukkah began.
It was snowing hard and after two days of early labour and one very long afternoon of intense active labour, my daughter Alyce was born to welcome the start of another holiday season. Two hours later we found ourselves at home, a family of three for the first time, and we lit the Hanukkah candles. I was exhausted and sore and ecstatic over finally having Alyce in our arms, and here we were, performing the commandment of Hanukkah.
I don’t even think Alyce had breastfed yet and still we lit the candles.
Hanukkah marks a time in history when the Jewish people were facing persecution and were able to overcome it. The lighting of the candles—one for each night of the eight day holiday—is a reminder of how after a great battle there was only enough oil to light the lamp in the temple for one night, but miraculously it burned for eight nights. So each year Jews around the world light their candles for eight nights, showing them off proudly in their windows for everyone to see.
It is celebration of freedom and miracles.
All things considered, Hanukkah is a minor holiday in the Jewish tradition. We don’t have to fast, clean out our homes, or even take time off from work. It’s a magical little holiday that gives families the chance to come together over food and tradition (and in our house, gifts). We now have two daughters who adore this holiday, ages 8 and 5, and they love to take part in everything Hanukkah related.
Here are a few different ways your young children can get involved in Hanukkah:
A festival of lights
The commandment to light the candles of Hanukkah is big draw for little ones. Who doesn’t love a row of candles in a darkened room? Before it’s even time to light the candles, children can participate in making their very own hanukiah, or menorah. When they are young they can help you create their own no-fire hanukiah (like this one) and as they get a little older you can help you build one for real candles. It’s a tradition for each child to have their own hanukiah, and kids really enjoy showing off their own personal creations. When it comes to actually lighting the candles, use your best judgement to decide when your child is ready to help with the lighting. In our house we started asking our children to hold the matches with us (the really long fireplace matches are best) as we light the candles each night. Now that our eldest daughter is 8, we light the match and then let her do the candle lighting herself.
The art of Hanukkah
There is nothing like a home filled with kids’ art, is there? Hanukkah is a great time for unleashing your child’s inner artist. Hanukkah has become a joyous holiday and young children can help you to reflect that joy with homemade decorations.
The primary symbols of the holiday include the hanukiah, dreidels (a traditional Hanukkah game), and anything and everything painted silver and blue (and in our house, lots of sparkles). This website is filled with great simple Hanukkah craft ideas for children, but with very young children it can be as simple as helping them paint or draw their favourite things about the holiday.
Because we all love to eat
Like any self-respecting holiday, food plays a big role in Hanukkah. Because it marks the time when oil in the temple lasted eight nights instead of one, the tradition foods of Hanukkah are those cooked in oil, such as latkes and doughnuts.
While it isn’t safe for young children to cook with hot oil there are still plenty of cooking tasks their little hands can help with, such as preparing the potatoes for the latkes and mixing the ingredients for the doughnuts. In our house our eldest daughter now loves to make the applesauce for dipping the latkes in. She can chop the apples, add the cinnamon, and stir it all together on the stove until the apples dissolve into the perfect addition to the latkes (and in the end it’s all she’ll eat anyway).
I’ll also fully admit that our children’s favourite food to eat on Hanukkah is the chocolate gelt, or coins, that accompany the games of dreidel we play each year.
We are about to mark our eighth Hanukkah together and it’s become one of our favourite holidays, and having young children in the house for any holiday makes it so much more fun. What are your favourite traditions for Hanukkah? Share them in the comments and let’s get started with our celebrations.
May you holidays be filled with happiness and light!
Picture by Andrew Ratto