Eight Lessons from Hanukkah for All of Us

The following was written by contributor Robin Zipporah of The Not-Ever-Still Life. It originally appeared in November of 2010.

When Hanukkah begins this Wednesday night I’ll light the brightly-colored candles with my family, sing the ancient blessings and traditional songs, and delight in my kids’ enjoyment of the holiday. And then I’ll wash dishes or pay bills or fold laundry, I’ll tuck my little ones into sleep, and I’ll prepare for work on Thursday.

In terms of religious significance Hanukkah is actually a minor festival. We make time in our schedules to remember a long-ago miracle but we move about our regular days. It’s a little sparkle at the beginning of winter. Its significance is conflated because of its proximity to Christmas, but really, they’re not in the same league.

Still, I think there’s something in Hanukkah for everybody:

1. Let your light shine out.

The two-sentence version of the Hanukkah story is that when the Eternal Flame in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was extinguished, only enough oil to relight it for one day could be found. God made the day’s oil ration burn for eight days, the time it took for messengers to travel and return with more rations. Jews light the Hanukkah candles to remember the miracle of the oil, and they light them in their windows and doorways to publicize the miracle. What gifts can you share with your neighbors?

2. Develop the long view.

We’re commemorating a story that occurred over 2000 years ago. It still matters. Can you imagine what impact your actions will have in 2000 years? How can we add relevance to our everyday lives?

3. Make a fuss.

Okay, so it’s true. Hanukkah really isn’t all that significant in the Jewish calendar. But isn’t it fun to make a big deal out of little things? For the same reason that my almost-five-year-old doesn’t have any loose teeth yet but already looks forward to a visit from the Tooth Fairy, we have special Hanukkah plates and try to find extra little ways to make the holiday special. A piece of chocolate here, an extra book at bedtime there…one of the greatest privileges of parenthood is finding ways to add moments of happiness.

Photo by cheeseslave

4. Cook up a storm.

Traditional Hanukkah fare is latkes, or potato pancakes fried in that oil we’re remembering with this holiday. They’re good, but a little involved for typical weeknight fare. Get your kids in the kitchen with you, and share the duties. Maybe they’re not old enough to fry at the stovetop, but at every stage there is something they can do to help and feel involved.

5. Dare to be different.

If you’re going to light candles in your front window each evening, you might get asked to explain why. Being Jewish rarely feels more self-evident than in the Christmas season (and here’s a great children’s book on the subject), but we all have something that makes us different. Celebrate you, and teach your kids to do the same.

Photo by Naveg

6. Learning should be fun.

The Hanukkah game of dreidel is really just a mnemonic to help kids remember the holiday’s message. The four Hebrew letters on the sides of the spinning top stand for the phrase: A Great Miracle Happened There. Every Jewish kid knows that phrase, and learned it via play. Sometimes the most effective teaching moments are the most unobtrusive ones.

7. Share, and share alike.

The great thing about playing dreidel is that it never really ends. According to , players add to or take from the pot (usually comprised of chocolate coins or pennies) according the letter displayed on the dreidel after theirs spin. Every time the pot empties, the players each replenish it from their own piles. In any circumstance where kids learn to share, take turns and cooperate, everyone wins.

8. Eight is enough.

Anything too drawn out loses its luster. We celebrate for eight days to remember the duration of the miracle, and as much as I enjoy Hanukkah I’m always glad when it’s done. Besides, calendars reliably repeat themselves, and I know what I have to look forward to for next year.

(Do you need some ideas to enhance your Hanukkah celebrations? Take a look at  Eight Steps to a Meaningful Hanukkah.)

What is your favorite family holiday tradition?

About Robin

Robin has two daughters, a son, a lovely husband who works many more than full-time hours and a full-time career of her own in government in the suburbs of Washington, DC. You can always read more about Robin’s parenting philosophies and her family’s antics and adventures at her personal blog The Not-Ever-Still Life, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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  1. I think the biggest thing is our own attitude toward the holidays we celebrate. If we are excited about it, that energy will be transferred toward our kids. If we focus on the spiritual aspect of it, they will get more out of it. If we’re stressed about getting gifts or decorating, they will be too. Be sure to pass on the perspective and attitude you want them to have!
    Heidi´s latest post: Happy Thanksgiving

  2. Wonderful lessons and they’re applicable to all of us. 🙂 Happy Hanukkah.
    Alicia´s latest post: Eating Green program asks you to pledge to eat green one day a month

  3. Loved this post. I was just telling my daughter about driedels the other day and I was saying they had symbols on the sides and she asked me what they meant and I realized I wasn’t sure! Now I will tell her the answer and more!
    Scarlet´s latest post: Interested in Co-Sleeping Benefits and A Unique Baby Bunk Co-Sleeper

    • Happy to help 🙂
      Here are the details. The four Hebrew letters are nun, gimmel, hay, shin. They stand for (this is transliterated): Nes Gadol Hayah SHam. That means “a great miracle happened there.” Fun fact: in Israel, the last letter (shin) is swapped out for a pey, so that is says Nes Gadol Hayah Poh, which means “a great miracle happened HERE,” since, of course, that’s where the story actually happened.

  4. I loved reading this, and I learned a lot! Thanks for sharing.
    Erin´s latest post: My sister, my friend

  5. Thanks for sharing! I especially love #s 1, 2, and 5. I really want my daughter to understand that we serve a miraculous God who is worth being different for–and that taking the long view of our choices glorifies him.
    Kathryn´s latest post: Precocious Princesses: The Apple-Pip Princess

  6. Lovely article, touching for all who read it. Thank you!
    We just purchased our first set or dreidels last week!
    Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site´s latest post: How My First 5K and Baby Steps Can Help You Sleep Train Your Baby

  7. You’re not supposed to do any “work” — mostly referring to housework — during the hour the Hannukah candles are burning. That’s one of the BIG reasons I look forward to Hannukah each year! It’s nice to have a forced break from the dishes, the laundry, the running around for that hour on a weeknight.
    WG´s latest post: Roller Coasters

    • Well, you’re technically right, of course. I supposed I abbreviated here – and this is a mostly Christian audience so I focused on the larger points; i.e. the nature of the holiday and its relative significance. What we do without abridging is bench licht, open gifts, eat dinner. Those candles, as you know, only really need to last 30 minutes. By the time they burn out we may still be eating, or it may be just about time to wash those dishes or move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. Chag sameach!
      Robin (noteverstill)´s latest post: Glowing


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