Hanukkah 101

Posted by: Sheryl Block, Interim ECE Director

A note from Sheryl Block:  When I was the Jewish Journeys teacher, I prepared a document like this to help the teachers know about the holidays.  I thought it would be helpful for any parent interested in the holiday.  This year Hanukkah begins the evening of December 2nd, the final day is December 10th.

Hanukkah is a joyous holiday that both children and adults enjoy celebrating each year.  It is often called the “Festival of Lights”, because a candle on the menorah or hanukkiah is lit for each of the eight nights of the holiday.  The candle that lights the others is the shamash, which is referred to as the “helper candle”.  Some families give their children a gift for each of the eight nights, and some just the first night.  The emphasis of the holiday is not the gift giving, it is the great miracle that occurred.  A small amount of oil lasted for eight days, which was far longer than expected.  The focus is also on Judah Maccabee and his army that was victorious in saving the Temple. 

Hanukkah can be spelled in a variety of ways.  There is not one universal way to spell it.  A number of years ago, the spelling Hanukkah, became the accepted uniform way to use at the JCC, so we would all be consistent. 


Hanukkah Dictionary

Dreidel (spinning top)-sevivon

Driedel letters-Nun-Gimmel-Hay-Shin   A great miracle happened there
In Israel- Nun-Gimmel-Hay-Pay           A great miracle happened here

Candles-nayrot (na-rot)

Oil-shemen (she-men)

Jelly donuts- sufganiot (soof-gahn-e-ot)
Coins- gelt (gehlt-rhymes with felt) usually light or dark chocolate
Hanukkah Menorah- Hanukkiah (cha-new-key-ah)

Shamash- Helper Candle (shah-mahsh)


Family emphasis can be turned to giving instead of just getting

  • Visit a nursing home
  • Donate food to the local food bank
  • Provide toys for organizations collecting them


Some Hanukkah Activities for the Classroom



  • Masking tape menorah - children light the candles with golf or cotton balls
  • Number stamping 1-9
  • Edible menorahs- you can use fruit or cake – use your imagination!
  • Make a menorah by tracing the hands of the children
  • Candles- Count candles in a box- compare different kinds-color patterning

1 to 1 correspondence- compare candle textures-sequencing- in a dark room watch candles burning-act like a melting candle- talk about fire safety


  • Make a dreidel out of clay
  • Edible dreidels
  • Dreidel game
  • Dreidel “Hokey Pokey”
  • 3-D dreidel


Traditional Foods

  • Make latkes
  • Make applesauce
  • Have a latke tasting party-document the results- plain latkes-latkes with applesauce or sour cream
  • Make latkes in a toy kitchen
  • Science- cut potatoes- see what happens if they are not in water-find out why


Other ideas

  • Make wrapping paper or a tablecloth
  • Make aprons- stamp Nun-Gimel-Hey-Shin on it
  • Cover classroom door with wrapping paper
  • Make picture frame- can be in shape of dreidel
  • Make a door knob hangar
  • Play pin the candle on the menorah
  • Make finger puppets


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