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The Festival of Lights: Teaching kids about Hanukkah

Last year for Christmas our daughter asked for a toy menorah. I asked her why, and she said, "I want pretend candles." After that exchange, I decided to teach her more about other religious customs and holidays. Here's some history and a project I recreated that will be a fun way to teach kids about Hanukkah. For teachers, has great lesson plans and projects for many holidays.

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The Story of Hanukkah (The Festival of Lights)

More than 2,000 years ago, the Jewish people fought against an enemy who would not allow them to practice their religious traditions. Their enemy destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, which contained many holy objects including a sacred lamp called the menorah. One small band of people, called the Maccabees, was led by a brave man named Judah. He led them in a fight against their enemies. Even though they were outnumbered, the Jewish people were brave and won the battle. When Judah returned to the Temple in Jerusalem the first thing he did was restore the sacred lamp. But there was almost no oil left -- only enough for one day. The lamp was filled with this oil and lit. Instead of lasting only one day, it burned brighter, and brighter, lasting eight days -- a miracle!


How Hanukkah is celebrated today

Hanukkah (also Chanukah) is the Jewish Festival of Lights. The word Hanukkah means rededication. Every year, the celebration honors the hard-fought victory of those trying to keep their faith despite a powerful enemy. It is an eight-day holiday that will be celebrated this year starting at sundown on December 2nd.  The first night usually includes a big family dinner with foods such as potato latkes, beef brisket and jelly doughnuts. After dinner, the family gathers to light the menorah candles -- a new one each night until all 8 are lit. Blessings and songs are part of the ceremony. Children then get to open gifts from family and friends.  They play games with toys such as the traditional dreidel and chocolate coins, called gelt.


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Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel

Make a paper dreidel

Print out the project here.

How to play the game:

A dreidel is a top with four square sides and is spun in a children's game. On each side of the dreidel is a Hebrew letter. When played in the United States, the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay, and shin read, "A great miracle happened there."

Each player starts with about 15 pennies or gold chocolate coins (gelt). I found them in the candy section at World Market.

Ask each player to put two of his/her pennies into the center "pot."

Each player takes turns spinning the dreidel

The letter facing up tells the player what to do:

shin - add one

hay - take half

gimel - take everything

nun - do nothing

When one person has won all of the coins, that round of the game is over!

Dreidel song

I have a little dreidel

I made it out of clay

And when it's dry and ready

Then dreidel I shall play!


Oh - dreidel, dreidel, dreidel

I made it out of clay

And when it's dry and ready

Then dreidel I shall play!

It has a lovely body

With legs so short and thin

And when my dreidel’s tired

It drops and then I win!


My dreidel’s always playful

It loves to dance and spin

A happy game of dreidel

Come play now, let’s begin!  

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