Growing up half-Jewish in New York City, I didn’t have to work too hard to find Hanukkah fun as a child. After all, the city has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel. Both holidays felt equally festive to me. Even my building lobby had both a Christmas tree and a menorah! But now, raising my family in Orange County, it’s been a bit more challenging to find a balance between these two holiday traditions. However, I want my children to understand and celebrate all aspects of their mixed cultural backgrounds. So I’ve found it worthwhile to invest my energy in seeking out Hanukkah fun for my family beyond just putting up decorations and lighting a menorah. Here are some of the ways you can up the Hanukkah fun quotient for your family too:
Fun In The House:
After we light the menorah candles, we like to play this little game: We each pick a candle that we think will last the longest. (Towards the end of the holiday when there are many candles lit we bet on which will burn out the fastest as well). Winner gets a piece of chocolate gelt. This is also a nice way to keep your child from devouring all the gelt on night one and then have nothing left to play dreidel with!
Not sure if this is a common Hanukkah tradition, but something my dad used to do when I was a child was hide the Hanukkah present for me to find each night. 8 days of gift-giving can be overwhelming, especially when you factor in Christmas presents too. So we tend to do just a couple big ticket Hanukkah gifts and then some smaller ones (akin to Christmas stocking stuffers). Finding a well-hidden present is half the reward of the present itself! Since our son is still young enough to need clues, we limit the hiding zone to just a couple rooms and play the Hot/Cold game to help him narrow the area down. Additionally, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by having to wrap 8 separate gifts, I recommend getting a reusable Hanukkah gift bag. Having a familiar bag to search for each night also helps little ones hone in on the gift. (My dad never used to wrap his gifts. And sometimes they’d just be little giveaway items from work. The hardest present he ever “hid” was a fancy pen with his company’s logo that he just put on his home office desk. WTH right?? Not fair dad!)
In my son’s classroom at our local public school, their bookshelf is currently overflowing with Christmas books. But has just a couple Hanukkah ones. To combat this uneven balance of cultural awareness, I try to get at least one new Hanukkah book every year for our home library. We are members of the free monthly book club though PJ Library, which makes this one an easy item to check off the list. BTW if you haven’t signed up for this yet, I highly recommend! They also offer music CDs, Jewish-themed home activity ideas, and cooking videos like this one for “stained glass” Hanukkah cookies.
Though I love listening to holiday music on Coast 103.5, it’s pretty much all Christmas tunes, all the time. So I’ve put together my own playlist of holiday music, which includes the following Hanukkah songs:
The Chanukah Song (original and Part 2) by Adam Sandler. Obviously, this is the one that started them all. There’s now a Part 3 and 4 if want to listen to 20 straight minutes of his voice.
Hanukah Gelt by the Klezmatics. A fun high energy song that you can’t help but silly-dance to.
Candlelight (to the tune of Taio’s song “Dynamite”). This a’cappella sensation by the Maccabeats also has a clever and entertaining kid-friendly video which you can watch here.
Light One Candle by Peter, Paul, and Mary. A favorite from childhood, and just a very uplifting song to listen to.
Also, though not technically Hanukkah songs, I also threw in these Raffi ones: “This Little Light Of Mine” and “One Light, One Sun.”
For the past two years, we’ve attending the menorah-making workshop at Home Depot (this is like their monthly kid-friendly classes, but only occurs at select locations). It’s a fun activity, and the Jewish organization which hosts it will usually gives out extra goodies like dreidels, gelt, and homemade latkes. As an added bonus, your child gets to feel proud for having made their own menorah, which gives them an added sense of connectivity to the holiday.
We also try to attend at least one public menorah lighting ceremony. Last year we attended a children’s event at the library. This year, we had planned to attend the candlelighting at Fashion Island but got derailed by the stomach flu. Not to fear! There’s another one coming up this Sunday at Pacific City.
Another thing my son enjoys about Christmas is that it’s a chance to have a party with all our loved ones. We host Christmas Day for family at our house which for the past couple years has coincided with Hanukkah. This year since Hanukkah came earlier, it’s been unfortunately too hectic for me to throw together a separate party. Next year, however, I’d like to host a Hanukkah party at our home. Not just for our friends of the faith, but for everyone so they can come and see what the holiday is all about. After all, who doesn’t love eating fried potatoes and donuts and bagels with lox??