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The most I knew about Hanukkah was that sometimes characters in one of my books celebrated it. And there was this weird, little spinning toy and a big candelabrum. It’s not that I don’t care about Jewish holidays, it’s just that we are Christians so we celebrate Christmas. I find myself more and more just trying to get our politically-correct world to say Christmas or write it out without fear it will trigger a global meltdown. I didn’t have time to learn about (much less teach my children) what the Jews are up to this time of year.
But wait a second. The Savior of the World, God’s only Son, the guy who died for me? He was Jewish and when I think about that, suddenly Hanukkah isn’t just a word on the mass-produced calendar hanging on my wall. It’s part of my adopted heritage, it’s part of my Lord’s legacy and it’s worth learning and teaching.
Christmas is the celebration of miracles—a baby born to a virgin, the King of Kings in a feeding trough, a ridiculously bright star, angels talking to shepherds. Well, Hanukkah is a story of miracles, too. It’s the story of a small band of Jews fighting for their homeland, reclaiming Jerusalem and then discovering that their one-day supply of consecrated oil lasts for eight, long days. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, commemorates the survival of Judaism, as well. Let’s be honest—that is a huge miracle, too. The world is historically cruel to Abraham’s family. These miracles are worth celebrating and exploring.
Celebrating Hanukkah for the First Time
You can buy a menorah just about anywhere—Target, Amazon, department stores, Craigslist, thrift stores, or you can make one with eight single candlesticks. If you have very young children and don’t want to use actual fire, construction paper cutouts of candles work, as well. Hang them up one at a time for eight nights in a row allowing each child the honor of hanging a candle.
We live in a big city so we often see menorahs glimmering in front of buildings or in windows. Do a quick internet search and show your kiddos what menorahs look like. Just familiarizing yourselves with the most recognizable Hanukkah symbol will help your kids see the holiday as part of their world and may draw their interest, as well.
Hanukkah involves symbolism, special blessings and songs that most Christians simply do not know, but again, educate yourself so you can use them. This devotional is simple, designed for Christians, and easy to incorporate into your December. I always fall back on the trusty library for books about the holiday or you might even find a local church that’s learning about Hanukkah, too and would welcome you to join it. Call a synagogue in your area and tell them what you’re up to! I bet they’d love to share about their faith and their special festival with your family. Wouldn’t you jump at the chance to share the real meaning of Christmas with someone?
One of my best friends celebrates Hanukkah with her family and I thought I’d share a bit of her experience with you.
“At first, the kids were a bit confused, to be honest,”says Blakely Bunning, mom to four. “Hanukkah is a Jewish thing, right? And, we’re not Jewish. Plus, we’ve never done this before and I don’t understand what this IS.”
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But, after the first nightly devotional, the light bulb went on. By day eight, they were looking forward to lighting the next candle, learning what it symbolized and bridging it together with what they’ve always learned in church interactions. It was very exciting to see. And this year, they are already asking if we can “do Hanukkah again.”
A Pinterest search will bring up more Hanukkah crafts, recipes and educational materials than you could possibly imagine. The options are endless. But don’t get bogged down under the weight of all those choices. Keep it simple, especially your first year. I ask my children what about Hanukkah they want to explore and take it from there. Maybe you’re not ready to actually celebrate Hanukkah but want to include it in a list of December holidays to study and discuss. That’s great! Do what works for your family. Try reading a Hanukkah picture book while the littles make a dreidel. Create traditional Hanukkah goodies such as doughnuts or potato latkes. A holiday celebrated with fried food? Yes, please!
Hanukkah doesn’t take away from our Christmas celebration. It doesn’t distract us or change our focus. In fact, one celebration points to the other and the One we celebrate at Christmas shines all the brighter and means even more because our family knows Him and His people and they are our people, too.
I want to leave you with final thoughts from my friend: “Observing Hanukkah became important to us, as we learned more about the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. Although not technically part of the biblical holy days, we learned a great deal about our faith and our Creator through Hanukkah devotions. Hanukkah is a remembrance and celebration of miracles. Humans are a largely forgetful people, and taking deliberate time to *remember* the merciful goodness Our Good Father has shown us became significant. Hanukkah is just one such celebration to remember who God is, what He has done for us, and what He will do for us always.”
Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas.
Lisa Farrar Wellman is a freelance writer from Austin, Texas. She writes about her family’s travel adventures at www.armedonlywiththis.com.
Hanukkah Books for Kids
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affiliate links are used in this post