Learn About Hanukkah Traditions with Shalom Sesame

The modern home celebration of Hanukkah centers around the lighting of the hanukkiyahhanukkiyahחֲנֻכִּיָּהNine-branched candelabra used during Hanukkah – eight branches for each night of the holiday, plus another branch (often taller, central, or more prominently displayed) for the shamash (helper) candle, which is used to light the others. , eating unique foods such as latkeslatkeלְבִיבָה"Pancake" (Yiddish); fried potato pancake often eaten on Hanukkah; plural: latkes. and sufganiyotsufganiyotסֻפְגָּנִית"Jelly doughnuts;" traditionally eaten in Israel during Hanukkah; singular: sufganiyah. , playing dreideldreidelסְבִיבוֹן"Spinning top" in Yiddish (derived from German); "sevivon" in Hebrew; toy used in a children's Hanukkah game. , and singing special songs.

Together with your children, watch the Shalom Sesame videos below. Then try some of the discussion ideas and activities below recommended by Reform Jewish educators to further extend the lessons learned in the video. If you wish, share your experiences and ideas in the comments sections below!


  • Light the hanukkiyah: The entire family can share one hanukkiyah, or each person can light his or her own. It is a good idea to place a tray or foil beneath the hanukkiyah for the dripping wax! Candles are added to the hanukkiyah from right to left but are kindled from left to right. The newest candle is lit first. (On the Shabbat of Hanukkah, kindle the Hanukkah lights first and then the Shabbat candles.) 
  • Put a new "spin" on an old game: The very best part of celebrating Hanukkah with your family is the traditions that have been carried on for generations. Playing with a dreidel, a special four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter printed on each side, is another great Hanukkah pastime. You can even mix it up by pitting the kids in the family against the grown-ups, or play the game to some fun Hanukkah-themed music. Baby Bear can give you the lowdown on "dreidel spinability."

    Playing dreidel is a fun family activity. Start by dropping a bunch of pennies in some vinegar to give them some shine. If your kids are older and more proficient with math, you can add a few nickels and dimes to the mix and have them practice those math skills. If it’s your first time spinning a dreidel, learn to play the game together with your child.
  • Hold a gift exchange that goes beyond your family: Creating meaning for your kids during the holiday season can help them move beyond the commercialism that characterizes the focus on gift giving. Try this: "get one, give one." If your tradition is typically to give gifts all eight nights of Hanukkah, this year give gifts to your children on four of the nights of Hanukkah, and on the other four give to someone in need a gift. Here's one example—if a book is given to a child one night, a book is donated the next.
  • Stories can be gifts, too: Do you have special holiday memories? Share them with your kids! If celebrating Hanukkah is new to your family, write down some memorable moments so that you can remind your child next year. You'll create your own chain of family memories. Since Hanukkah falls during the winter holiday season, your kids can share their Hanukkah traditions with friends or family who may celebrate other holidays.


Dreidel around the world: The letters on the dreidelNun, Gimmel, Hay, Shin—stand for Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which means "A great miracle happened there" ("there" meaning Israel). Ask your children if they can think of any miracles that happen in their more immediate community—what does a "miracle" mean to them?

Recommended Reading

  • The Chanukah Activity Book: Children will enjoy activities such as Maccabee MaccabeesמַכַּבִּיםThe family of five sons who led the revolt against the Hellenization of Jerusalem and became the heroes of the Hanukkah story. word games, coloring their own hanukkiyah, and discovering the symbols, rituals, and history of this holiday.
  • Entrée to Judaism for Families: Jewish Cooking and Kitchen Conversations with Children: Jewish foods are intricately connected to Jewish history and culture, and this book brings it all together for families in a unique way. Tina Wasserman's cookbook for families includes recipes for Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays include “kitchen conversations," ideas for discussion and activity suggestions to help families connect to Jewish history and each other.


The Missing Menorah

Baby Bear and Telly Play Dreidel

For more Shalom Sesame videos, activities, and other materials, visit our friends at Shalom Sesame.