My favorite festival is Hanukkah, which is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication. The reason I love Hanukkah is, for us, we do very little materialism. My favorite Hanukkah gifts are the gifts of time we give our family members for 8 days of giving. Just a brief history of Hanukkah is a celebration of the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.
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A Brief History
According to legend, the Maccabees had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt in 165BC. Poorly armed and outnumbered they won the battle against the superior Syrian forces. The temple had been used to worship pagan foreign gods by Antiochus.
According to the Talmud, legend says when the priests went to light the wicks of the menorah they only had enough oil for one night. The oil miraculously burned for eight days, even though there was only enough sacred oil for one day’s lighting. Because of this victory Jews and a few Christians have kept this celebration.
8 Days of Giving ~ My Favorite Hanukkah Gifts
What about Jesus?
Even Jesus went to the temple during the Festival of Lights as you can read in John 10:22-23. “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.” Since Jesus attended this festival, we should not be surprised that many aspects of its celebration have lessons to His followers today. Many believe the center candle, called the Shamash, represents His character of love and light. And of course, we should follow His example.
The 25th of Kislev was proclaimed as the beginning of a holy festival given to the rededication of the temple for the priestly service. This date marked the third anniversary from the time the temple was originally desecrated by Antiochus.
Why I Love Hanukkah
My love for Hanukkah comes from celebrating many beautiful feast days throughout the year that also involves a lot of work! It is not commanded that we celebrate Hanukkah, and although I love all of the other feast days, like Sukkot and Passover, Hanukkah has always been so simple for us. I purposely keep it that way to keep the feeling of peace, light, love, and tranquility, which is why I love it so much.
Simply lighting the Hanukkiah candles brings me enough joy that I do not need to do much else. I love the shorter days and coming home from work to just light the candles and enjoy a nice meal with my husband as the candles glow into the winter night. I kindle the light in my home as it floods the darkness outside. We always place our Hanukkiah by the window. As a family, we ponder how to kindle the light within ourselves.
We will often have friends and family over for a special meal on the Sabbath or the first night of Hanukkah if it is a weekend.
I also like for any gifts we do to have a special meaning. I try to keep the gifts for the younger kids more traditional with educational gifts, like bible games, puzzles, books and toys that reflect the season.
This year we have Ezra! He was born on December 20, 2018, and this will be his first Hanukkah! This year Hanukkah begins on December 22nd so we will have a double blessing of his birthday and Hanukkah in the same month!
I can’t wait to see which Hanukkiah my son in law picks out for him. These next formative years will be more about giving to others rather than getting toys. We will teach him rich traditions that focus on time spent with family and helping others!
Our Traditions During Hanukkah
Here is an example of what Hanukkah looks like for many Torah observant families with ideas that will not break the bank and help to keep the traditions alive. Often times, Hanukkah is called the Jewish Christmas and that perception is not one I want to perpetuate. We personally do not make Hanukkah about gifts and consumerism.
One friend stated, “We go through the fruits of the Spirit, beginning with Love as the Shamash candle in Jesus, and focus on scriptures/activities for one each day as we light them.”
My Favorite Hanukkah Gifts for 8 Days of Giving
Day One – Traditional Gifts
After we light the first two candles together as a family, we start the evening with a special meal, to commemorate the rededication of the temple, and there is always Challah. We play dreidel and eat chocolate coins after dinner. I have known adults who have fun with this and have an ugly Hannukah sweater contest while playing dreidel or wear dreidel head-boppers to keep it fun. Keep it traditional and use real dreidels and teach the kids the meaning of the Hebrew letters while they collect their stash of gelt!
Day Two – Books
There are a lot of great books for both children and adults out there. Kids can start a tradition of reading these great books during the Hanukkah season. They range from Elmo’s Little Dreidel to Hanukkah coloring and sticker books. Teens and adults can have fun with Mad Libs for Hanukkah.
Day Three – Games and Puzzles
You can continue the dreidel fun with more complicated updated versions of the game. Kids Dreidel Pop N Spin Game on Amazon is a new one I will be getting for Zechariah. Last year he got the Hanukkah Memory Game and it was his favorite according to my daughter. For the older kids get more age-appropriate games like this one I found for my Grandaughter. Escape Room In a Box!
Day Four – Pajama Night!
Or some other gift that is practical. It could be everyone gets new hats and gloves for winter. I like pajama night because everyone can get in their new pajamas and play board games. I plan on getting my daughter a new pajama set she has wanted for the baby that comes with mittens already attached.
Day Five – A Family Gift
A night out with the whole family! Bowling, movies, and pizza out make for a great family night after the candles are lit!
Day Six – Giving to Others
Come up with a giving plan for the year. The whole family decides which charity they would like to give to, how much and for how long. This year I am looking at the local Family Homeless Shelter or Habitat for Humanity is another favorite charity.
A friend suggested this as an activity! “When the kids were younger, we’d do a craft to share with neighbors, focuses on Jesus being the Light of the World — one year, I got a bunch of little flashlights from Oriental Trading and printed little tags I made. We tied the tags and the kids tied them to doorknobs in the neighborhood (with an adult escort).” Thanks, Twyla! This is such a cool suggestion!
Day Seven – Handmade Gifts
This one can get messy with the littles so plan ahead. Pull out your craft box and get creative. My granddaughter likes to do decorated picture frames as a gift. You could also do T-Shirt art and have the kids make their own Hanukkah shirts for next year.
Day Eight – Traditional Food Night
I am not a huge fan of Jewish food, but Hanukkah foods are the best ones in my opinion and there are some favorites. Traditional foods are fried in oil to represent the miracle of the oil for the Festival of Lights. Potato Latkes and Sufganiyot, a traditional doughnut, are made at Hanukkah. Also, noodle kugel can be served in two ways. Sweet or savory. Sweet as a dessert or savory alongside your traditional brisket. Have the kids help in the kitchen for the final meal!
For our Hanukkah dinner, we typically do a Prime Rib, with homemade mashed potatoes, and asparagus roasted in the oven drizzled with EVOO, garlic and romano cheese and of course wine! We invite friends and family over to light the Hanukkiah together, eat, drink responsibly and listen to music.
Keeping it simple and keeping it fun is what keeps Hanukkah, well Hanukkah!
One of the best places I have found to get Hanukkah gifts that are within the theme of the holiday is Amazon and TJ Maxx!
Ask yourself how you will kindle a light within yourselves this holiday season.