Chanukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights, and lighting the menorah is an especially delightful celebration that brings light into our homes and into our community. The miracle of Chanukah celebrates one night’s worth of oil giving light for eight nights—as well as an ancient victory by the Maccabees over the Greek army and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.
This is a special time of year to build meaningful traditions with family and a time to create deeper, richer connections to foster appreciation for the small miracles in our daily lives.
I came across an article by Bonnie Romanow, a parent educator at the Marin County Jewish Family and Children’s Service, which offered some ideas to consider for each night of Chanukah as a way of giving thanks. I thought her suggestions were both interesting and enjoyable as they remind us about the blessings of both holidays, Chanukah and Thanksgiving. I thought it worth sharing her ideas as opportunities for rededicating oneself to the practice of giving and gratitude:
Day One: Remember the Meaning of Miracles
Lighting the first candle, saying prayers, hearing the Chanukah story, so begins the first night. Take some time to explore what miracles are and how they might show up, both big ones and small ones. Add the gift of a journal for everyone to write down the miracles they notice in the coming days. Each family member can write at least one miracle every day.
Day Two: Appreciate Beauty and Art
There are thousands of art projects that you and your children could explore with just scissors, colored paper and glue. Make dreidels into art pieces with felt, ribbons and paint, or decorate candles with beeswax, etc. Spend the evening together having fun and creating handmade pieces to decorate your home, or you can also appreciate beautiful art made by others by looking through art books together.
Day Three: Tzedakah Night
Spend time as a family discussing the meaning of tzedakah, charity and justice, and why we value giving to those in need. You can wrap toys to bring to a toy drive for kids in need, or identify another charity, or a family or individual who needs help. Together as a family you can decide what act or acts of charity can be done by your family over the holidays.
Day Four: A Night of Cooking and Nourishment
Prepare together traditional foods for an extra special festive meal! Have family members pick one item, a new recipe or an old one, to prepare. Make sure to involve your kids in the preparation, and talk to them about the meaning of the foods. Share your creations with friends and loved ones and nourish each other’s souls.
Day Five: Music Night
Sing Chanukah songs, listen to your favorite Chanukah music, or find a Chanukah playlist on Spotify (there are several). Make this night about music and community!
Day Six: Story Night
Ask your older family members to participate in this special evening of sharing. Each member of the family brings a story or a book highlighting Chanukah. They can share their own history or read a favorite passage or poem. Ask the eldest family members what it was like growing up Jewish in his or her generation and what they did for Chanukah as children; what’s changed and what’s stayed the same?
Day Seven: Peace in the Home, Shalom Bayit
Discuss the value of having a peaceful home and unity among family members. Everyone can bring ideas for what kind of communication works best to get along and show respect for one another. Take a mindful walk together after dinner.
Day Eight: Mitzvot Night
Take out the miracle notebooks from the first night and ask family members to share the miracles they noticed. Also point out the kind deeds performed by family members over the past eight days in order to reinforce a sense of giving simply for the joy of giving. Reflect on the miracles that showed up and how your family might continue to remember all year long.
By introducing these beautiful values during Chanukah, we reinforce and celebrate “the festival of lights” all year long and deepen the connection of relationships, friendships and gratitude. This Chanukah, be a light that brings relief to those in need. And as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let us be grateful for the many blessings in our lives.
Chag Sameach to you and your family!