Around this time of year, I start seeing Christmas lights go up on neighbors’ houses; they’re beautiful, and I appreciate their sparkling beauty. I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t say that I also see things that make me see red, which we can file under the general heading of “Ways To Make Hanukkah More Like Christmas.” From pictures of “Hanukkah bushes” to gingerbread hanukkiyot to “Elf on a Shelf” knockoffs (ahem!), it seems like many people want Hanukkah to be more like Christmas.
Why are people trying to turn a Jewish holiday about religious freedom…into Christmas? Christmas is a beautiful holiday, but you know something? It is not my holiday, and that’s OK. Moreover, I don’t want Hanukkah to become some weird knockoff Christmas–nor should it.
Hanukkah is different and is actually pretty awesome. It celebrates a group of Jews, long ago, who decided they would not be forced to assimilate and to become like everyone else–instead, they would proudly be themselves.
In that spirit, here are eight ways to proudly celebrate Hanukkah. Please feel free to add more in the comments.
1. Make sufganiyot and latkes with your kids
What two things mix better than young children and hot, spattering oil? Seriously, though, these two foods are Hanukkah traditions due to their use of oil, which plays a pivotal part in the story of the holiday. If you are not Susie Homemaker, don’t sweat it: the ready-made mixes from Manischewitz and Streit’s are acceptable as well.
2. Make your own
Make a flame-free, eco-friendly hanukkiyah with your kids that they can play with and “light.”
You can make this bad boy out of toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, or wrapping paper rolls. It’s comparatively easy (I am NOT crafty), and makes a good toy for a toddler who can’t be trusted with a flame even with the guiding hand of a parent.
Another idea: Try it with jars, battery-operated votives, and tissue paper.
3. Read books about Hanukah with your kids
PJ Library is a wonderful resource for Hanukkah books for your children, and has a list of all Hannukkah-related books. Some particular favorites in my house are “The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes” by Linda Glaser; “The Hanukkah Trike” by Michelle Edwards; and “When Mindy Saved Hanukkah” by Eric Kimmel.
4. Look for ways to support Israel and/or Israelis
Israel is, as the Hanukkah story relates, the homeland of the Jewish people, regardless of what government may be in charge. The holiday is a good opportunity to examine your own relationship to Israel, and to create a relationship for your kids.
Many adults think of supporting Israel as just giving money–which, of course, is always a good bet. The Good People Fund is a great resource to learn more about charities in Israel, and there are many that may appeal to you as a parent. For only $54, for example, you can sponsor a birthday party for a kid whose family can’t afford his or her own.
However, there are many ways to support Israel that can more directly and personally involve your kids. Kids can send letters and drawings to Israeli soldiers–and, I’ve heard, will even get a response. Near me, Bears from Bergenfield sends already-loved stuffed animals to children in Israeli group homes, hospitals, etc.
5. Don’t have a friend in Israel? Get one!
Pen pals are pretty old school. That being said, our world lends itself to easy connections with others–yet so few people take advantage of the opportunity to connect to strangers. Ask around your circle on Facebook–someone you know knows someone else who has an English-speaking kid in Israel your kid’s age. Put them in touch. Write letters together, or e-mails, or FaceTime. One day, hopefully, you can meet in person–but in the meantime, it is a wonderful opportunity to have a window into modern Israel through the eyes of a child.
6. Do some research and find out about the history of your family
Hanukkah is a holiday that teaches the importance of history–so why not do some digging and find out about your own family tree? Talk to relatives, get pictures, and make a book or album for your kids that they can add to as they grow older. This book might become your family’s most valued possession.
7. Teach your children how to gamble
Gelt is the perfect currency for a fierce dreidel competition during Hanukkah. The overwhelming majority of my children care much more about chocolate than money. Costco sells a huge Belgian chocolate container of gelt that is simply delicious… and, as you know, calories consumed while celebrating a holiday evaporate within 24 hours. Teach the kids the significance of the letters on the dreidel while you’re at it: It’s not just about the chocolate, but it’s about miracles.
8. Have a party and celebrate your heritage
You may have to listen to Christmas songs every time you go to Trader Joe’s, but in your own home, you can celebrate your own heritage. Have friends and family over, light the menorah together, play some fierce competitive dreidel, and eat oily foods. Good times will abound.
The letters on the dreidel stand for Nes Gadol Haya Sham–A Great Miracle Happened There. I would argue that after thousands of years of our people being murdered, persecuted, and tortured, A Great Miracle Happens every time we own being Jewish, and are proud of who we are.
Celebrate the holiday. You are the miracle.