Kids curious about Hanukkah? Read my guide

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The Villalpando family gathers on the first night of Hannukah this year to light the hanukkiah. Credit: Ava Villalpando
The Villalpando family gathers on the first night of Hannukah this year to light the hanukkiah.  Credit: Ava Villalpando

The Villalpando family gathers on the first night of Hanukkah this year to light the hanukkiah.
Credit: Ava Villalpando

Last year I gave you a primer on explaining Hanukkah to your kids. Hanukkah, which started on Sunday night goes through next Sunday night. Here is my guide again:

What’s the story?

It’s a war story that’s been romanticized. Judah Maccabee and his four brothers led a revolt against the Assyrian Greeks, who had taken over Jerusalem in the second century BCE. The Maccabees won and regained control of the Temple. It had been trashed. They cleaned it up and went to light the ritual menorah lamp but could only find enough oil to last one night. The miracle was that it lasted eight nights, giving the Maccabees enough time to make more oil. We celebrate Hanukkah for eight nights because of this story.

Is it Hanukkah or Chanukah?

It’s Hebrew, so the correct spelling is in Hebrew letters. There are many transliterations. None of them are wrong or right.

Is Hanukkah a major holiday?

Nope. Yom Kippur and Passover are much more important. Hanukkah only became a big deal in the last century as Jews and Christians lived side by side, and Jewish children felt left out. (But don’t tell that to any Jewish children; they love this holiday.)

What do you do with a menorah?

In the modern tradition, each night a special menorah for Hanukkah called a Hanukkiah is lit. The Hanukkiah holds nine candles, one for each night, and the Shamash, a helper candle that lights the other candles. On the first night, you light the Shamash first, and one candle on the far right side of the Hanukkiah. Each night you add a candle and light the newest candle first, moving left to right.

There are blessings in Hebrew or English to be said:

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, she-asah nisim laavoteinu v’imoteinu bayamim hahaeim baz’man hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in days of old at this season.

For first night only: Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu laz’man hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.

What about presents?

Each family has a different tradition, but the most common is kids get a present a night for eight nights. The presents only happen after lighting the menorah.

Is there a Hanukkah Harry?

No, that’s a “Saturday Night Live” skit. Kids receive presents from their parents, grandparents, friends, etc.

Is there a Hanukkah bush?

Not really, but some Jewish families do decide to have a small tree because they want a tree like their Christian friends.

What do you eat?

Well, on Hanukkah, it’s all about the oil. There are two traditional foods. The first is sufganiyot, which are jelly doughnuts. The second is latkes, potato pancakes. You mix grated potatoes, diced onions, salt and pepper together, and add egg and matzo meal (or flour) until you can form a patty. Fry in a frying pan with about an 1/8 inch of oil in it. Tip: Use shredded hashbrowns to skip the grating.

What do you play?

Dreidel is the most common game. Each side of the dreidel has a Hebrew letter that stands for the phrase: Nes Gadol Haya Sham (A great miracle happened there). You can play with as many players as you want. Each player should start with the same number of pennies, M&Ms, raisins or the traditional chocolate coins called gelt. Each player puts one penny into the pot in the middle. You take turns rolling the dreidel. If it lands on a Nun (which looks like a blocky backward C) you get none of the pot. If you land on a Gimmel (which looks like a blocky backward C with a tail), you get all of the pot. If you land on a Hay (which looks like an upside down L with a small line to one side), you get half of the pot. If you land on a Shin (which looks like a W), you put one penny into the pot. You keep playing until someone has all of the pennies or until it’s time for bed.

 


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