Those eight crazy nights are approaching and we’ve got everything you need to make your Hanukkah a whole latke (sorry) fun. For my family, Hanukkah is more than the Jewish footprint in the holiday season. Mixed in with those dreidel spins are lessons to be learned about having pride in our Jewish identity. From the songs and stories to the gifts and gelt, here are eight awesome ways to celebrate Hanukkah and make your Jewish festival of lights lit. (Again, sorry!)
For more ways to celebrate this holiday season with your family at home, creating new traditions and memories that last a lifetime, check out our Guide to Holiday Fun for Kids.
OUR LATEST VIDEOS
When is Hanukkah 2023?
This year, Hanukkah starts at sundown on Thursday, December 7, 2023 and ends on Friday, December 15, 2023. In the Hebrew calendar, which follows a lunar cycle, Hanukkah always begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev. That means it moves around the Gregorian calendar, which follows a solar cycle (the more you know!). Sometimes Hanukkah falls in November—remember the epic year of the Menurkey circa 2013?—but this year it’s smack in the middle of the American holiday season. Read on for our top eight ways to celebrate.
1. Tell the Hanukkah Story
Lots of Jews will tell you Hanukkah isn't really a major holiday from a religious perspective; the High Holidays and Passover take that cake…err matzah. However, the story Hanukkah commemorates is significant and remains as relevant as ever. It’s impossible to sum up in a nutshell but I'll try:
It's never too early to start reading the story of Hanukkah.
Back in the 2nd century BCE, a king named Antiochus outlawed observance of all Jewish customs in Jerusalem, forcing the Jews to abandon or hide their religion. His soldiers desecrated the Holy Temple, the most sacred place in Judaism, and destroyed everything inside, including the menorah that was lit every night and the oil used for its flames. A small, brave group of Jews called the Maccabees revolted against the king's giant army and quite miraculously succeeded in their defeat, regaining control of the Temple, where they immediately rebuilt the menorah. Only a single jar of oil remained to light it—just enough to burn for one night. In yet another miracle, the oil lasted for a full eight days, offering light in the darkness and enabling the Jews to get more oil as they reclaimed the Temple and their Judaism.
Got all that? For more on Hanukkah history and the traditions around it, check out some of our kid-friendly favorites:
PJ Library offers several versions of the Hanukkah story on its website geared toward different age groups. It also offers an amazing and FREE subscription service so you can receive Jewish children's books every month.
Guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings of millennials who are now parents to young kids. Hershel came on the scene in 1989 and quickly became the ultimate Hanukkah classic, even winning a Caldecott honor.
Fry up traditional Hanukkah foods like latkes (potato pancakes). Photo by Geraud Pfeiffer
2. Hanukkah Food: Latkes and Sufganiyot
It’s not Hanukkah without latkes, which we make simply because the oil reminds us of the oil that lasted in the temple (our family also gets that reminder every time our smoke detector goes off while cooking). Same deal for jelly donuts, also known as sufganiyot—fried in oil is the way! A favorite latke recipe here at Mommy Poppins is this twist on the traditional potato pancake:
Gingered Sweet Potato Pancakes
3 medium sweet potatoes (peeled, shredded)
1 medium potato (peeled, shredded)
2 eggs beaten
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup onion (chopped)
1 Tablespoon ginger root (minced)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 teaspoon canola oil (divided)
In a bowl, combine all ingredients (except oil), toss to mix. In a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, heat one teaspoon of oil over medium heat. Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls into skillet; press lightly to flatten. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown with remaining oil and batter.
The lighting of the candles is an important job for kids!
3. Light the Hanukkiah
We covered why the menorah is important, but it’s technically a hanukkiah that we light on this holiday. A hanukkiah is a type of menorah only used on Hanukkah, with nine branches that include a helper candle called the Shamash. It’s tradition to sing the blessings while lighting the hanukkiah, adding a candle each night from right to left (but you light it from left to right!). Confused? PJ Library has a great cheat sheet complete with audio of the blessings. We've also found some of the internet's best hanukkiyot (e.g. the plural of hanukkiah) including this dino, a spaceship, and personalized letter block name menorahs--you're welcome!
It's time to celebrate Hanukkah, with Adam Sandler's classic song.
4. Hanukkah Songs: From Adam Sandler to the Maccabeats
When Adam Sandler sang “if you feel like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree” I felt so seen. Here are my family's favorite Hanukkah tunes to add to your holiday playlist:
The Hanukkah Song by Adam Sandler (We like the original best, though there are now four versions!)
Dreidels are spinning tops with Hebrew letters on each side. The story goes that children used to play dreidel back in the time of the Maccabees and would use the dreidels as a diversion to distract the king's guards from seeing that they were studying Torah. The letters on the dreidel are also an acronym for Hebrew words that translate to “a great miracle happened there.” In any case, here’s how you play.
Your kids' cute hands are the perfect template for this Hanukkah craft.
Make a Menorah
There are lots of ways to make your own hanukkiah from different materials, some that you can light like this egg carton menorah, and some that are just for fun, like this one made from toilet paper rolls.
7. Give Presents: Great Hanukkah Gifts
There are so many ways to do gift-giving on Hanukkah. Some families do small gifts every night and one big gift the last night. Our kids get seven smallish gifts and donate a gift on the last night. Other families stick to traditional gelt or coins, or they might give a dollar for each night of Hanukkah (one on the first night, two dollars on the second night, and so on) which will total $36 by the end of the holiday—a significant number in Judaism. Here are some gifts that we have our eye on this year:
The whole family can get cozy in matching Hanukkah PJs.
Regardless of whether your family observes Hanukkah, it’s always important to expose kids to cultures and customs outside of their own. Many communities hold candle lightings and Hanukkah bazaars during the holiday season—search your local Mommy Poppins calendar for Hanukkah activities near you. So find a candle lighting, buy some sufganiyot from a local Jewish bakery, and remind your kids that the holidays include so many different traditions that we can all appreciate.
This article contains some affiliate links, which means we might earn a small commission if you make a purchase. There is no extra cost to the reader. We only recommend products and services that we have personally used or have thoroughly researched.