Celebrating and Learning About December Holidays, Part 1
- Grades: 1–2
Hanukkah is one of the first December holidays that I teach in my classroom. Many times, we have children in our class who can share their own knowledge of the holiday.
The holiday lasts for eight days, so for eight days my students have fun learning about Hanukkah traditions. Join me and my class as we learn about this Jewish holiday.
Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, celebrates the miracle of the oil, which occurred over 2,000 years ago. According to Activity Village, "In 165 BC, the Jews in Judea rebelled against their Syrian ruler, Antiochus, because he insisted that all Jewish people must worship Greek Gods." After three years of fighting, the Jews defeated Antiochus and took their Temple back.
Activity Village continues: "As part of the celebrations they lit an oil lamp which should have been kept burning all the time, even though they could only find enough oil to keep it burning for one night. But a miracle occurred, and the oil lamp stayed lit for eight days, which was the time it took to make new oil for the lamp."
This is why it's traditional in Jewish culture to celebrate the miracle of the oil every year by placing eight candles in a menorah, a special candelabra. Every night of Hanukkah, they light one candle. The menorah can have electric or real candles, and ideally, it's placed in a window, where it's visible to passers-by.
Eight Learning Activities Honoring Hanukkah
There are many easy ways to celebrate Hanukkah in your classroom. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. Watch a quick video of the history of Hanukkah from Discovery Education. Then check out Chabad.org Kids for tons of quality background information, videos, and crafts. This video is used with permission from Chabad.org. It is a quick history of Hannukkah.
2. Play dreidel games. During Hanukkah, it's also traditional to play dreidel because the four-sided top refers to the miracle of the oil. Each of the dreidel's four sides have one Hebrew letter, nun, gimmel, hay, and shin, the first letters in the Hebrew words for the expression "A great miracle happened there." Scholastic Printables has a Hanukkah dreidel that kids can make and take home. Directions for the game are included on this Hanukkah information sheet. For additional instructions, head over to Amazing Moms, where they also provide detailed instructions.
3. Make a no-flame classroom Menorah and do a menorah art project with your kids. The site Amazing Moms also has a craft project in which kids make a menorah out of plastic cups — and flames out of painted wooden spoons. Each day of Hanukkah, your students can insert one of the flames into the top of a cup, "lighting" that candle. It's a fire-safe way to enact this holiday tradition in your classroom.
For another wonderful Hanukkah craft, the Best Books for Kids Web site provides a template for a menorah project that can be easily done with paint, watercolors, or construction paper.
4. Taste latkes. Because they're usually fried in oil, again recalling the miracle of the oil, latkes are a traditional Hanukkah food. So whip up some latkes for your students to taste. Trader Joe's has some great premade latkes, which I bring in along with my electric skillet. If you are a cook, or have a room mom who is willing to make them, you can find a recipe at Epicurious.
5. Sing a Hanukkah song: "I Have a Little Dreidel"
8. Make a class Hanukkah book. I love the book Hanukkah Haiku, so each child writes and illustrates a haiku that includes something that they learned about the Jewish holiday.
If we have families that are Jewish, I invite someone in each day to talk about Hanukkah, sing the blessing, or read a story to us. Sometimes, the families bring latkes to share or teach us the dreidel game. This varies year to year depending on how many families we have.