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November 20, 2015  RSS feed

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Non gift-centric ideas to celebrate Hanukkah


Hanukkah crafts from Pinterest Hanukkah crafts from Pinterest Despite Hanukkah being one of the few Jewish holidays not mentioned in the Torah, it gets a lot of play – pun intended. Shmuel Arnold of Baltimore recalls how while growing up in a secular Jewish household, his parents made an extra effort to give Hanukkah gifts every night. Sometimes they needed to get creative, like wrapping socks or delivering a gift from an extended family member.

Without even a rendition of Rock of Ages around the Hanukkah menorah, Arnold says the holiday had one meaning: presents. Today, however, married with three children ranging in age from 9 to 18, Arnold – like many other parents – tries to infuse more meaning into the Festival of Lights.

Here are some ways to celebrate the holiday that don’t involve gifts:

Hanukkah crafts

Every year, children learn how to light the candles and about the miracle of the Maccabees in school or Hebrew school. They also make a token Hanukkah menorah (or hanukkiah) – likely out of clay, nuts, and bolts. Fun and creative activities can help Hanukkah come alive at home, too. Pinterest has a colorful variety of Hanukkah crafts that work for children ranging from toddlers through high schoolers.

A favorite in my house is the Hanukkah handprint. Children dip their palms into a bowl of fabric paint and stamp it on a sweatshirt (it works on paper, too, but a sweatshirt is more practical). Then, they dip each of their fingers into paint to create finger candles. Finally, they take their thumb and stamp it in the middle – the shamash (worker candle). Add a flame to each candle, and you’re done!

Hanukkah party

It might not seem so original, but Hanukkah is great time for a party. Unlike other Jewish holidays that involve extra time in synagogue, or for Orthodox Jews might preclude playing music or driving, Hanukkah is eight days (except for a regularly observed Shabbat) of unabashed fun.

Birthday in a Box offers traditional Hanukkah party tips, as well as some fun and quirky new spins on Hanukkah decorations, food, and favors.

Dreidel tournament

You have a little dreidel – so use it! Pull friends, young and old, together for a dreidel tournament. Break into teams of three and four and get spinning. We use candy as prizes. (It’s best to use something wrapped since it will be touched by lots of little hands).

You can purchase dreidels in bulk from or often at your local synagogue’s gift shop. It adds to the excitement when you have dreidels of various sizes and colors.

If you’re particularly serious about dreidel-playing, I found a website for a “Chai stakes” dreidel tournament that breaks down the “official” rules and regulations for “World Series Dreidel.” In my house, however, we seem to do better when the children are free to cry over spinning too many Hebrew-letter shins (put two antes in the center), and the prize is Hershey’s KissesTM.

Talk about the miracle

As Arnold’s children have gotten older, he uses the 30 minutes required to sit around the Hanukkah candles as a way to discuss the miracles of the holiday and some of its more esoteric significance.

“When Hashem created the world there were no stars or planets. The or – the light – was a non-physical or. That or, the light of God, is what the Yevanim (Greeks) were trying to knock out of the world,” Arnold explains. “I tell my children that we can use Hashem’s light like a soldier uses night vision goggles … to see His hidden miracles, to appreciate the spiritual light.” Shop – for someone in need

Rebecca Katz of Overland Park, KS, remembers that as a child she and her family would work with a local charity to receive the names of local families in need – Jewish and non-Jewish. Then, she and her siblings would be provided those families’ holiday wish lists and go shopping for them (instead of for themselves). Once the gifts were purchased, they would hand wrap them and deliver them in person.

“I remember one year, we got to this family, went upstairs and they had a tree, but it was completely empty underneath,” Katz says. “We put all the gifts there and it was so unexpected. The children were so happy.”

Re-enact the Hanukkah story

Younger children can enjoy a game of dress-up. If you have enough kids or can get classmates involved, a re-enactment of the Hanukkah story can add to the spirit of the eight days. Kids enjoy dressing up in togas (just use some old sheets) and wielding plastic swords and shields. To make it easier, use a book, such as The Story of Hanukkah by Norma Simon, as a guide.

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