‘Tis the season.
In a world full of Christmas cheer, it can be difficult to raise your children in a religion where Santa Claus, unfortunately, does not visit your house.
Before I married my Catholic husband we agreed that our children would be raised as Jews. My grandparents were both Holocaust survivors and their experiences, like so many others, made it that much more important for me to keep our faith going strong. As a modern day Jewish mother, my goal is to help my children focus, not on what they are missing out on, but on finding joy in all the wonderful Hanukkah traditions that we can celebrate together as a family.
The Story Of Hanukkah
Hanukkah, “the Festival Of Lights,” is a holiday that celebrates the Jewish people of the second century B.C. who fought against religious persecution. The Jewish people, led by the Maccabees, triumphantly restored the second Temple in Jerusalem. As they began to rebuild the Temple the remaining oil used to light the Menorah was only supposed to last for one night, but miraculously lasted for eight nights. Today, Jewish families celebrate Hanukkah by lighting the Menorah for eight nights.
Lighting The Menorah
Lighting the Menorah with children is one of the most meaningful traditions of Hanukkah. We own a number of Menorahs.
The Menorah that we light and recite our prayers with is a Menorah that was gifted to me on the day of my Bat Mitzvah. I love involving my children in this and seeing their eyes light up as we light the candles. It brings about a sense of deep connection, not only to other Jewish families around the world who are celebrating Hanukkah at the same time, but also a connection to our ancestors who celebrated in much the same way. Each night that we add a candle and the flames grow brighter, the more joy it brings to my heart.
Electric Menorahs are a must have modern convenience if you have young children. We have two of these and both have been loved on quite a bit and without any of the worry of a real flame. I like that my children feel a sense of responsibility in lighting up the little electronic bulbs on “their” Menorahs.
Hanukkah Jelly Doughnuts, or Sufganiyot in Hebrew, is a traditional sweet treat that commemorates the miracle of the oil. This is a new tradition for our family that we started last year, and of course, the sugary goodness was a huge hit with my kids.
I went with the simplest of recipes. It had only four ingredients: store bought refrigerated biscuit dough, grape jelly, powdered sugar and oil.
I heated the oil in a large pan. While the oil was warming up, I rolled half of the dough into balls and cut the other half I into star shapes using a cookie cutter. The dough is then dropped into the oil for a few moments. Once the doughnuts cooled I inserted jelly into half of the batch (always aware of picky eaters) and sprinkled a little powdered sugar on top.
I was amazed at how easy the process turned out to be and am already looking forward to adding new variations this year and letting my children be more involved in the baking process.
We also do at least one batch of sugar cookies that we cut into fun Hanukkah shapes thanks to a priceless cookie cutter set that I found a few years ago. I let the kids go crazy throwing sprinkles on them and I love that while they’re having fun, they’re learning the names and shapes of some of the traditional Hanukkah symbols.
Dreidels and Latkes
Dreidels and Latkes are two of the most well known symbols of Hanukkah. The Dreidel is a spinning top used for a game that involves taking and giving away Gelt (foil wrapped chocolate coins.) Each side of the Dreidel has a different Hebrew letter on it, ‘Nun,’ ‘Gimel,’ ‘He’and ‘Shin.’ These letters are an acronym that in English translates to “a great miracle happened here.” In ancient times, when it was against the law to study Hebrew, Jewish children would play this “game” while secretly studying the Hebrew letters. The rules of the game, as well as the history of Dreidels, have so far been over the heads of my children, but that hasn’t stopped us from having fun. We pull out our Dreidels every year and the kids have fun spinning them, singing the “Dreidel, Dreidel” song and of course munching on chocolate Gelt. With the variety of colors that the dreidels come in, they can also be arranged to make a festive center piece on your Hanukkah table.
Latkes, or potato pancakes, are another way to pay homage to oil during the Hanukkah celebrations. A traditional Latke is made of grated potato, flour and egg and garlic or onion for seasoning.
Typically, the Latkes are, you guessed it, fried in oil. My children are quite picky eaters and no matter how creative I have gotten with my recipes with swapping out sweet potatoes or zucchini, these have always been a hard sell for my kids. Things that have helped with my picky eaters include baking them in the oven instead of frying them and topping the Latkes with applesauce or sour cream.
No, Santa does not visit our house bearing gifts but, eight presents; one for each night? What’s not to love about that? This however, was not a tradition that was kept up in our household when I was growing up but I do think, if done the right way, can add both meaning and excitement to the holiday. For my daughters’ first Hanukkah I tore through the book store and found eight Hanukkah themed children’s books that we still pull out every year around the holiday time.
Other years I have purchased dollar store items and made my own version of a Hanukkah “advent” calendar with a gift for each day. I also love the idea of “Eight Days Of Kindness.” Rather than gifts, this would be a great way to involve your children and give them a sense of giving back to the community. You could plan the kindness acts yourself or ask your children to help you with their own ideas.
Whatever holiday you may be celebrating this year, I hope it is filled with joy, peace, love and laughter. Cheers mama, to new traditions and making wonderful memories with your children.