Hanukkah is a fun, minor holiday with lots of activities to involve even the youngest children. It is also a great time to develop unique family traditions. Each night we light the Hanukkah candles. Some families light one Hanukkah menorah and others will light one hanukiah for each family member. You can make each night special with a different latke recipe each evening, a story read one night and another night devoted to all of the Hanukkah songs you know, and one night for a huge family dreidel game. Some families will do a small gift each night.
At the same time of year you may have noticed that while we are celebrating our minor holiday, Christians are celebrating one of their two major ones. As the other holiday revolves around rabbits and resurrection as opposed to a stable full of animals, lots of lights and gobs of presents, Christmas becomes a really big deal. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus and is a religious holiday.
Anyone who thinks it is now a secular celebration of peace and goodwill should pay attention to the “war” over Starbuck’s cups. I would also argue that, contrary to some opinions, Hanukkah does not get equal time. There are more Christians and all of the hoopla is their celebration. Hanukkah is not how we celebrate Christmas and it is not a competition. We get to build sukkot, search for the afikomen, and dress up and gorge on hamantaschen. It is fun to help our neighbors decorate their tree, drive around enjoying the lights, and remember that all of us as children at some time announced we were converting for the week. This is often your child’s first experience of being a minority culture and your response to “why don’t we celebrate Christmas?” will lay the groundwork for much harder questions that follow as they get older.
It is also the time of year when elementary school teachers suddenly think that their young students are Judaic scholars and can explain Hanukkah to their class. Offer your services if this is requested and lead wonderful discussions on the difference between national and religious holidays or explain that Jewish holidays do not jump around the calendar if you are looking at the correct lunar one instead of the solar one. With older kids it is fun to look at what happens if you overlay them and why some lunar calendars need to add leap months if they have holidays associated with harvests. Another fun topic is why Hanukkah has so many spellings and let kids play with transliteration versus translations.
This actually is a joyous season if you don’t get caught up in the frenzy and just go with the beauty and some absurdity that Christmas casts at this time and just retreat to your home and light our lights and spin the driedels and gather with family to recount the story of Hanukkah and the imbedded hope that we can all live peacefully enjoying our varied beliefs .
Judy Callahan is director of B’nai Simcha Jewish Community Preschool and a member of PJTC.