8 Ideas for Celebrating Hanukkah with Teens

Rabbi Elizabeth Zeller

With eight nights to celebrate, Hanukkah is a wonderful holiday for families to enjoy together – especially if there are teens in the house or in your extended family.

Teens are old enough to understand the lessons of the Hanukkah story, so it is an opportunity to talk about the value of driving out darkness with light, of standing up for your beliefs, even when others might not agree with you, and of coming together and celebrating our religious freedom through compassion, thankfulness, and community. It’s also a great time to have some fun.

Here are eight ways to involve the teens in your life in the celebration of Hanukkah.

1. Let the teens select a theme for each night of Hanukkah.

By the time our kids reach their teen years, they often aren’t as interested in small gifts each night. Don’t let your Hanukkah traditions end. Instead, consider choosing one night for gifting, and choose other themes for the remaining nights. Check out the themes described in Noam Zion’s A Different Light for ideas to incorporate into your celebration.

For example, one night could be chesed (kindness), and your family might do something together for others. Perhaps one night is lomed (learning) and you head to the bookstore to choose a new book – one for each family member and one to donate.

2. Explore the culinary traditions of Hanukkah.

Jews all over the world have their own traditions for celebrating this holiday of light and oil that lasted for eight days. Take a night of Hanukkah to learn about a new community and enjoy together a culinary tradition from around the world. Browse our Hanukkah recipes to find something new for your family to make and enjoy together this year.

3. Create an opportunity for tzedakahtzedakahצְדָקָהFrom the Hebrew word for “justice,” or “righteousness;” refers to charity or charitable giving. May also be translated as “righteous giving.” 

Put everyone’s name in a hat and have each person draw a name. Then, donate in honor of that person to a cause you think might be important to them. And remember that donations don’t always have to be money; you can also donate clothes, toys, books, or food to help those in need.

Alternately (or in addition), as a family you might choose one place to which you go together during Hanukkah to volunteer your time. Explore ways to infuse your celebration with social justice this holiday season – and beyond.

4. Conduct a spelling contest.

Have everyone write down what they believe is the proper spelling of the holiday (in Hebrew, חנוכה). Reveal your answers, then enjoy this video together.

5. Thank someone for bringing light into your life.

As a family, use fun stationery and pens to write thank you notes to the people who have helped you or influenced you in your life. More of a digital family? Use these Hanukkah e-cards to share your messages.

6. Make it movie night.

Each Hanukkah, we remember our ancestors’ fight for religious freedom. Now that your kids are teens, they can handle movies that uncover some of the difficult fights for freedom that others have fought. See this list of racial justice resources for movies on the topic of freedom. Though these movies can be difficult to watch, they shine light on the struggles around us and remind us to step up for those who still fight for their freedom.

7. Chat it up with the teens. 

Invite teens to talk about the things that are meaningful to them. Use these questions as conversation starters: What’s one way you can be a light in this world? How can you provide light to others? What do you value most and are you willing to fight for it? Support them in developing plans to bring their most treasured values to life.

8. Empower teens to lead and teach the rituals. 

Invite friends and extended family young and old to celebrate Hanukkah with your family, whether in person or remotely. Let the teens explain each Hanukkah ritual and activity to guests. It’s not only a great opportunity for your kids to teach others, but also a wonderful way for you to share the warmth and light of Hanukkah with others in your life.