We love Hanukkah. The message that the rabbis in the Talmud give about the holiday is that we light candles each night in order to increase the holiness in the world.
What a beautiful idea, but one that can be completely lost on children.
We don’t expect them to be immune to the culture in which we live, but we want to help them understand that the miracle of Hanukkah is about bringing more light into the world, not filling their rooms with more stuff.
So here are some ideas for celebrating Hanukkah with kids that aren’t just about the presents that have worked for our families:
1. Decorate the house.
The mitzvah of Hanukkah is to publicize the miracle, both that the small Jewish army defeated the large Greek army and that the small jar of oil lasted for eight days. Get the message out by decorating your house. Turn it into a family project by making your own decorations.
2. Do something for others
The best way to publicize the miracle is to help others see the light in the world. Find a project that you can do as a family that helps others in your community or in the world.
3. Give tzedakah
Search your house for those coins that have been hiding in the couch all year. Find a cause that your family is passionate about and donate all that loose change. You’d be surprised how much it can add up to. Instead of presents every night, ask your family and friends to make a donation in your child’s honor.
4. Carve out family time.
Commit to turning off your phones and being present. Sing as many silly Hanukkah songs as you know, play competitive dreidel, and eat some latkes and jelly doughnuts.
5. Read Hanukkah books.
There are so many fun children’s stories about Hanukkah. Both PJ Library and Amazon are great sources for finding books that will appeal to your child and the whole family.
6. Invite friends over.
Bonus points for inviting those friends who have never celebrated Hanukkah. Make sure you brush up on the story before they arrive.
7. Watch lots of Hanukkah parody videos.
This is a personal favorite in my family, where we watch videos from groups like the Maccabeats to Six13 to videos people made in their own homes (or offices, like we did). Feeling brave? Make your own.
8. Make a new family tradition.
Are there things you always wanted to do in your city? Make a Hanukkah bucket list and do one each night. Or have a latke contest to see who can add the most creative ingredients to the traditional potato pancakes. Add something fun that you can do together as a family and share it with others.
And since we know that kids (and grown-ups!) still love to get presents, you can participate in a “get one, give one” plan so that each time your child is given a toy, they have to choose a gently used one to donate. Make it even more meaningful by taking your child to deliver his/her donation to a shelter or a hospital.
Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal is director of youth and family education at Central Synagogue in New York City. This piece was written in conjunction with Erin Bouchard, the family engagement project director at Central Synagogue.