Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish holiday that has gained importance in the United States and other countries with significant Jewish populations. According to the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev. Because the Jewish and Gregorian calendars do not align exactly, Hanukkah does not fall on the same days of the Gregorian calendar every year. In fact, the first night can fall anywhere from as early as November 28 to as late as December 27.
Because the English name is transliterated from Hebrew, Hanukkah has several spelling variants, with Chanukah, Hanukah, and Chanuka being just a few. Regardless of how you spell it, Hanukkah is joyfully celebrated with crafts, games, singing, and, of course, the nightly kindling of the menorah. (Technically, the special nine-branched menorah that is lit only during Hanukkah is called a hanukkiah. Read on for some easy family activities you can do to celebrate Hanukkah. One note: We’ve kept the materials lists and instructions simple, but feel free to put your twist on these activities.
If you’ve ever made a handprint turkey for Thanksgiving with your toddler, this activity will seem familiar. You’ll need white construction paper, one or two paintbrushes, and some blue and yellow finger or tempera paints; additional colors are optional. If your child is wearing a long-sleeve graphic T-shirt, be sure to roll up the sleeves.
Coat your child’s hands with the blue paint, then center them over the construction paper. Press each hand on the paper separately so that the thumbs overlap. Try to keep the remaining fingers in an upright position. The thumbs will form the shamash, or candle used to light the other candles. Older children can use additional paint in the color(s) of their choice to create a base for the menorah. On the first night of Hanukkah, “light” the shamash and the candle to the far right by adding a thumbprint flame in yellow paint. Then, each night, “light” and additional candle, working from right to left.
In recent years, ugly Christmas sweaters and sweatshirts have become popular holiday apparel, with patterns that include reindeer, snowmen, elves, Santas, and whatever else catches the designer’s fancy (sports team logos! penguins!). The options for ugly Hanukkah clothing are much more limited, so why not make your own? You’ll need kids’ sweatshirts (one per child), precut felt Hanukkah shapes (if you can’t find any in a hobby or fabric store, you can make your own), fabric glue, gold and silver fabric puff paint, and embellishments such as buttons, rhinestone gems, and pom-poms.
Help your child arrange the shapes along the front and sleeves of the sweatshirt. Once your child is satisfied with the design, use the fabric glue to attach the shapes to the sweatshirt. Allow the shapes to mostly dry, then outline them with the puff paint. Follow the instructions on the paint bottles as far as drying time goes. Once the paint has dried, add additional embellishments—the more, the uglier! If your child wants, you can repeat the whole process on the back of the sweatshirt. Your child can wear their ugly Hanukkah sweatshirt with their favorite pair of kids’ jeans.
Jewish or not, pretty much everyone is familiar with “The Dreidel Song”: “I have a little dreidel; I made it out of clay.” Instead of clay, try making a dreidel your kids will want to snack on. This is a great activity to do while you’re waiting for the ugly Hanukkah sweatshirts to dry. (Also, if your children hate getting dressed, “No making or eating the dreidels until you’re not wearing your kids’ pajamas” is a great motivator!) You’ll need large marshmallows, pretzel sticks, chocolate kisses, the “glue” of your choice (such as frosting, hazelnut spread, jelly, or peanut butter), and cake-decorating gel.
Insert a pretzel stick into the top center of the marshmallow and push it almost to the other side. Do not push it through. Take some frosting (or whatever you are using) and put some on the base of the kiss, then attach it to the bottom of the marshmallow. Allow time for the frosting to set.
Real dreidels—the kind you play with, not the kind you eat—have four Hebrew letters on them: nun, gimmel, he, and shin, which stand for the phrase nes gadol hayah sham, “a great miracle happened there.” (Fun fact: In Israel, the shin is replaced by a pe, which stands for “here,” where the events of Hanukkah occurred.) Have your child add the letter of their choice to their marshmallow dreidel. Even better—you can never eat too many marshmallow dreidels, after all—allow each person to make a set of four; that way, each dreidel can have a different letter. You kids will likely want to do this activity more than once, so keep your supplies together in storage baskets.
Faux stained glass decorations are easy to make and look pretty when hung at windows. You’ll need black construction paper, wax paper, tissue paper in various colors, white school glue (not glue sticks), and some paintbrushes.
Cut out a dreidel or a menorah from the black construction paper so that you have an open shape framed by the black paper. If you are doing a dreidel, carefully cut out one of the letters found on a dreidel from the black middle piece. For a menorah, don’t forget to also cut out candle flames. Older children should be able to do this on their own; your little ones will need help. (Save the parts from the middle—you can use the leftover black silhouettes for other Hanukkah decorations.) Next, cut a piece of wax paper to almost the same size as the construction paper frame. Tear or cut the tissue paper into smaller pieces. Mix equal parts of glue and water. Lay down some tissue paper in the center of the wax paper and paint over the pieces with the glue mixture. It’s okay to overlap the tissue paper. Continue to do so, working outward to the edges of the paper. (Note: If you prefer the tissue paper to not bleed as much color, brush the wax paper with the glue mixture before placing the tissue bits on the wax paper.)
Once the tissue paper has dried, carefully tape the wax paper, tissue side down, to the construction paper. If you are doing a dreidel, carefully glue the black letter you cut out earlier to the front of the tissue paper decoration. Hang your dreidels in a sunny window. Save the leftover black silhouettes to use for other Hanukkah decorations. Your children will want to troop outside to admire their handiwork, so make sure they have on something warm, such as kids’ puffer vests.
These are just a few of the many Hanukkah activities your family can enjoy. Others include playing dreidel, making a hanukkiah out of bolts, and singing Hanukkah songs. Whatever activities your family chooses to engage in, enjoy the time spent together. Hag Hanukkah Sameah!