Inside: Are you looking for ways to make Hanukkah more meaningful for your family? Whether you’re an interfaith family or just celebrate Hanukkah, these 8 ideas for the 8 nights of Hanukkah will make the holiday more special and more meaningful.
My dad dropped me off at Hebrew School and as I got out, he gasped. I was still wearing the Christmas sweater I had worn to school. I sheepishly handed it over to him as he drove away.
I’m a nice little Jewish girl who also happens to celebrate and love Christmas.
And now my kids celebrate both holidays too. We light the menorah and put up a Christmas tree. We make my very religious great-grandma’s Christmas sugar cookie recipe with my mom’s Hanukkah cookie cutouts. And I hang dreidel ornaments on my Christmas tree.
We blend it and mash it all up.
But Hanukkah can easily get overshadowed by Christmas traditions of carols and Santa and Christmas lights.
So I feel a little protective of Hanukkah because it already gets the short end of the stick:
- Hanukkah gets a tiny end cap at Target rather than 12 aisles that are up before Halloween is over.
- There isn’t a radio station that plays Hanukkah songs starting in November.
- There’s definitely no hilarious Hanukkah movies I have to watch or a sweet Hanukkah ballet I take my kids to every year.
- And there’s no way the Mensch on the Bench will ever be as cool as the Elf on the Shelf.
Hanukkah will never compete with Christmas. It’s not intended to.
But, I want to find ways to make Hanukkah more meaningful, more memorable, and more special.
So on those 8 days of Hanukkah, my family refrains from most things Christmas to focus on the Festival of Lights. To celebrate our December miracle. To instill our Jewish traditions in our kids.
8 Ways to Make Hanukkah More Meaningful:
1. Light the candles every night
When my kids were younger it was easy to forget to the light our menorah every night. Life was busy and we were treading water to get through the day. But now that my kids are older, there’s no way they would let me forget. If you don’t have kids reminding you, an easy way to remember is to keep the menorah on the kitchen table for 8 days.
Don’t have a menorah yet? There’s a Hanukkah in a kit that comes with everything you need to get started!
As soon as we felt comfortable, we let our children light the menorah. And they always rotate who gets to pick out the candles and put them in.
Our other big challenge is lighting the menorah when we’re not home. Before we discovered this awesome pocket travel menorah we take with us (it uses birthday candles!), we would pack candles and a tub of Play-doh. My daughter would roll the play-doh into 8 little balls and one slightly bigger ball and we had a kid-friendly on-the-go menorah.
We’ve lit our on-the-go menorah at friends’ houses, the mall food court, and even Disneyland.
Our tradition of lighting the menorah is always followed by giving our kids small gifts. Maybe that’s why they never let us forget lighting the menorah…
Eight presents can get out of hand quickly, so the presents are often small or shared. They usually get the newest Disney movie, a new board game, or a new Hanukkah book. One year they got marshmallow roasters for our new fire pit and then got impatient for an actual fire.
To focus on the spirit of giving, my girlfriend has her kids choose a gift at the store they donate to a local toy drive instead of receiving a present that night.
2. Read Hanukkah books to Make Hanukkah More Meaningful
There are so many incredible Hanukkah books, especially with the introduction of the PJ Library (get free Judaica books mailed to you every month!) We read at least one Hanukkah book every night of Hanukkah. Plus these books make excellent Hanukkah gifts.
Here are a few of our favorite Hannukkah books:
And I love these Interfaith books if your family celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas:
3. Start a dreidel contest after dinner
I have an obscene dreidel collection. I have wooden ones and hot pink plastic ones and a baseball one. It’s ridiculous and gaudy and I love it. Maybe it’s because I get so excited when I actually find them in stores, I feel the need to buy them all up.
Not sure how to play dreidel? Here are the instructions.
If you have older kids, teach them how to spin a dreidel upside down. It will get them to stop flipping bottles and try a new skill.
Or you can see who can spin the dreidel the longest. Hint: the heavier wooden ones usually win.
4. Share the joy of Hanukkah with others
People who don’t know about Hanukkah are often confused by it.
I firmly believe it is our job to help teach others who want to learn how we celebrate. Information helps reduce indifference and bigotry and hate. Information teaches tolerance, and understanding, and love.
So we invite neighbors and friends over every year who don’t celebrate Hanukkah. If I’m feeling ambitious, I make latkes. But we teach everyone how to play dreidel and we light all the menorahs we own. The kids who come, leave with their very own plastic dreidel and it’s always the hit of the party.
Offer to teach the dreidel game in your kids’ classrooms. Many teachers welcome the chance to showcase cultures from around the world.
The year we lit our menorah at Disneyland, a mom at the other table asked if her son could watch so he could learn a little bit more about Hanukkah. Um, absolutely.
5. Make Hanukkah crafts
Your kids will most likely not be coming home with any cute Hanukkah crafts from school. My kids never have. So we make our own.
But we also really love these 8 Acts of Hanukkah Kindness Paper Chain.
One year I gave my daughter a candle making kit and we used those beeswax candles in our menorah.
We’ve also painted these wooden dreidels and we’ve decorated a board to catch the wax drips from our menorah so we protect our table.
And one year, we went to Home Depot and made menorahs out of wood, nuts, and small tiles.
6. Make or buy Hanukkah food to make Hanukkah More Meaningful
Jewish holidays are all about the food, and Hanukkah is no exception.
Since Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights, we fry latkes at least once, (but usually twice because they’re my absolute favorite.)
Not sure how to make latkes? Here are a few recipes you can try.
We also used to make jelly donuts at home until we found a food allergy safe donut shop to buy them. My kids love eating sufganiyot to celebrate like the Israelis do.
Because we have to make sure Hanukkah tastes good.
7. Create a Hanukkah music playlist and teach your kids the songs
I’m listening to Christmas carols as I type this. No really. I love Christmas carols. And they’re everywhere.
So to balance it out, we make sure to also play great Hanukkah songs so our kids get familiar with and love them too.
Here are my favorite songs:
Hanukkah Dance by Woody Guthrie
Light One Candle by Peter, Paul and Mary
Hanukkah Blessings by The Schneiderman Sisters and Friends
Kindle a Candle of Light by Dan Crow
Chanukkah Blessing by Dan Crow
Sevivon by Dan Crow
Happy Joyous Hanukkah by The Indigo Girls
Take a Potato by Margie Rosenthal & Ilene Safyan
I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica by Tom Lehrer
Chanukah Sing-Along Medley by Rabbi Joe Black
Judah Maccabee by Rabbi Joe Black
Eight Nights of Joy by Rabbi Joe Black
My Dreydel by Raffi
Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah by the Bare Naked Ladies
and of course, The Hanukkah Song by Adam Sandler (not suitable for kids)
8. Connect with other families who celebrate Hanukkah
We now live in a neighborhood where there are very few Jewish families. But being so far away from our family, it’s important to connect with others who celebrate Hanukkah too.
We make sure to light our menorah over Facetime at least one of the 8 nights so we’re lighting our menorah with our family across the country.
If you live closer to family, invite them over and throw a Hanukkah dinner. If you don’t want to make dinner and deal with the latke frying, light the menorah together.
Search your town for a Hanukkah festival. The local Chabad usually hosts one that is open to the community. Attend your temple’s Hanukkah party or check to see if there’s a menorah lighting at your mall or town center.
Surrounding myself with the Jewish community always makes me feel more connected to Hanukkah itself.
And surrounding yourself with people who believe what you believe and celebrate what you celebrate is a joyous way to enjoy the Festival of Lights.
Bonus 9. Instead of 8 Nights of Gifts, Give Away a Gift
Many families give eight nights of gifts to their children. We do.
Small trinkets, books, a family movie.
But instead of 8 nights of gifts, we take one night off and give instead of get. On one of the 8 nights, instead of giving our kids a present, we help them figure out a way to give back. As a family, we choose a cause near and dear to our hearts and give in a meaningful way.
Not sure what to choose? Try one of these ways to give back.
As a family, you can purchase things for a shelter or on a children’s hospital wish list or buy groceries for the food bank.
It can be small, it can be big.
But the act of giving is more important than getting one more small trinket.
And it sure beats the Mensch on the Bench.
Here’s a list of over 70 gift ideas to celebrate Hanukkah.
Do your kids get Hanukkah gifts? Help them write meaningful thank you notes for their new gifts!