Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, can be joyful and meaningful, even while we stay socially distant. Hanukkah takes on greater significance this year as we look for more ways to add light and celebrate education in our world. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and PJ Library have a curated list of de-light-ful ideas to celebrate the “eight nights of lights.” The holiday begins Thursday, December 10 at sundown.
Theme Nights That Aren’t About the Gifts
Here are some celebratory ideas to help you focus on the holiday:
- Tzedakah (Righteousness or Charity) Night: Use this evening as an opportunity to learn about those less fortunate and how you, as a family, can help. The focus of this night of Hanukkah is to donate money or in-kind items as a family to a cause you care about. Purchase grocery gift cards, toys, diapers or other items to donate, or make items to give. Find a list of suggestions at Jconnect.org/jconnections.
- Get your kids inspired by sharing one of these two books: “Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles” by David Adler, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler. “Gracie’s Night” by Lynn Taylor Gordon, illustrated by Laura Brown
- Cooking Together Night: Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil lasting longer than expected, so meals that feature fried foods or olive oil are traditional. Make a meal as a family and get everyone involved. Kids can chop tomatoes and cucumbers and mix dressing for an Israeli salad (to cover both where the Hanukkah story happened and the miracle of the oil). Make homemade applesauce for your latkes. Or try your hand at “sufganiyot” (jelly donuts that are traditional for this holiday in Israel). (See recipes below.)
- Family Game Night: Play dreidel as a family at home and consider inviting family and friends to play over Zoom. (You can search spin a dreidel on google.com!) Other games that work well over video chat include Battleship, Pictionary, STEM Challenges (build a menorah with just three materials), LEGO Challenges (have family members compete to make a LEGO dreidel that actually spins!).
- Night Light Walk: Bundle up and take a flashlight or make a lantern to take on a walk to see the stars, holiday decorations and more.
- Dance Party: There’s a lot of Hanukkah music to enliven your celebration. Start your playlist with these seven songs.
- Join a Community Candle Lighting: take your menorah and log on to light it with other members of the community each night of Hanukkah. Get the list on Jconnect.
Theme Nights for Gifts
In giving gifts, you can keep it simple and fun with Theme Nights. Here are some suggestions:
- Game Night: a board game or video game that the whole family can play
- Book Night: there are a slew of new Hanukkah books out this year (see below), or pick a favorite book or series from your childhood to share with your children
- Sock Night: extra points for the funniest socks
- Pajama Night: matching holiday jammies, anyone?
- Movie Night: popcorn and candy optional
- Craft Night: Give supplies for your kids to get creative or a kit that appeals to their interests (like a cartooning kit for a kid who loves to read graphic novels). You could also start a family crafting tradition and create something together, like this family canvas idea.
- Sports Night: Give gear from your child’s favorite team or the equipment to play a game together and stay active all winter.
- Tzedakah Night: Instead of giving a gift to your child, have them use this evening’s “gift” to do something for others.
It’s All About the Oil
Hanukkah recipes feature oil, but that doesn’t mean everything has to be fried. Here are some favorites recipes:
- “Sufganiyot” (Jelly Doughnuts)Federation’s Jewish Food Experience® – JFE)
- Slow-Cooker Apple Butter to top your latkes (JFE)
- Galician Pear Butter as a different latke topping (JFE)
- Chewy Chocolate Olive Oil Cookies from Paula Shoyer (JFE)
- 7 Delicious Foods from Around the World to Try This Hanukkah (PJ Library)
- 12 Easy and Kid-Friendly Hanukkah Recipes (PJ Library)
Hanukkah Celebrates Education
A key part of the Hanukkah story is how Jews wanted to keep learning about Judaism but weren’t allowed to do so by the ruling Assyrian-Greeks. They snuck in the learning and eventually fought back. (Learn the story behind the holiday in the hilarious “Meet the Latkes” by Alan Silberberg or download this printable child-friendly version of the story.)
Honor this tradition of learning with some favorite PJ Library® Hanukkah books written by local authors, including two that are new this year!
Picture Books from PJ Library
- “The Ninth Night of Hanukkah” by Erica S. Perl (new!)
- “Happy Llamakkah” by Laura Gehl (new!)
- “The Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas” by Pamela Ehrenber
Chapter Books from PJ Our Way
- “Like a Maccabee” by Barbara Bietz
- “Penina Levine is a Potato Pancake” by Rebecca O’Connell
- “Dreidels on the Brain” by Joel Ben Izzy
- “A Dreidel in Time” by Marcia Berneger
- “The Golden Dreidel” by Ellen Kushner