Simple Ideas to Bring Hanukkah to Life


On Hanukkah we can feel the warmth of the candles shining from the hanukkiyah, hear laughter from family members playing a game of dreidel, and smell the sizzling latkes frying in the pan. We celebrate Hanukkah for eight days, commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple after it was desecrated by the Greek army in the second century BCE. According to the Hanukkah story, a small group of Jewish rebels, led by Judah Maccabee, resisted the Greek army and successfully won their freedom to practice Judaism. Among the Hanukkah themes are the power in standing up as a group for what we believe is right and advocating for others’ freedom.

Hanukkah is one of many winter holidays around the world that feature celebrations filled with light. Each winter, families adorn houses and trees with lights for Christmas; clay lamps shine outside homes in honor of Diwali; and candles are lit to honor ancestors in observance of Kwanzaa.

Here are ideas to spark your grandchild’s curiosity about Hanukkah. Choose or adapt the activities according to the age of your grandchild and whether you are together in person or at a distance using Zoom, FaceTime, or What’sApp.

Click HERE to download a free Hanukkah Discovery Kit.

On Hanukkah, we light a nine-branched menorah called a hanukkiyah for eight nights, adding a candle for each night of the holiday.

According to the Hanukkah story, a single jug of olive oil the Maccabees used to relight the Temple menorah miraculously lasted for eight days. Find a guide to lighting the hanukkiyah here.

Here is a way you can encourage your grandchild’s creativity and design skills while learning about the holiday.

Design your own Hanukkah menorah sculpture.
Look at the shape of a hanukkiyah (either an actual one or an image online). Ask your grandchild: What do you notice about the shape of the hanukkiyah? How many branches does it have? Now, create your own sculpture of a hanukkiyah using building materials found around the house. Ask your grandchild to decide what to use to make your sculpture (blocks, tin foil, paper, or other creative materials). You might also use edible ingredients like pretzel rods, marshmallows, cheese sticks, or graham crackers. For this project, the hanukkiyah does not have to be usable.

On Hanukkah, we eat foods fried in oil, including potato latkes and jelly donuts (sufganiyot), to remember the small jug of oil used to light the Temple menorah.

Use the activities below to explore the story of Hanukkah and experience the tastes of the holiday with your grandchild. 

Play hide and seek to find the last jug of oil.
Take a cup and fill it with crumpled yellow paper (construction paper or use yellow crayons to color white paper). Imagine this is the small jug of oil from the Hanukkah story. Tell your grandchild to hide the cup somewhere in the house while you close your eyes. Now, use a flashlight to search for the cup of oil. Once you find it, you can switch — you hide the cup. If you are playing at a distance, make this a guessing game of hot and cold, asking questions to determine where your grandchild has hidden the cup of oil. When you are done playing hide and seek, bring the cup over to a hanukkiyah, and explain that the story of Hanukkah features a small cup of oil that helped keep the candles of the temple menorah burning for eight nights.

Fry up a variety of latkes and have a family taste test.
Make latkes using several different root vegetables such as potatoes, yams, carrots, beets, or parsnips. Use a single ingredient for each batch of latkes. Lay out the latkes and separate them based on the different root vegetable ingredients. Close your eyes or use a blindfold and try each latke variety. Ask your grandchild: Which one is your favorite? Can you guess what each one is made of based on the taste alone? 

Click HERE for instructions on how to cook latkes.

On Hanukkah, we play the game of dreidel to remember that it was a way for Jewish people to distract the Greek soldiers from realizing they were studying Torah.

We play the dreidel game with a spinning top, each side featuring a Hebrew letter:  nun, gimel, hay, and shin. The letters are an acronym for the Hebrew phrase “Nes gadol hayah sham,” meaning “A great miracle happened there.”

Use this activity to bring the dreidel to life as a movement game.

Dance the game of dreidel together.
Look at the four Hebrew letters on the dreidel: נ(nun), ג(gimel), ה(hay), ש(shin). Together, create a unique dance move for each one of the letters. (For little ones, you can also lie down in the shape of the letter.) For example, you might gallop for gimel or hop for hay. Once you have rehearsed your four movements, play the Dance the Dreidel game. Spin the dreidel. Do the dance move corresponding to the letter that is face up on the dreidel once it stops spinning. Add music to make it a dreidel dance party.

On Hanukkah, we share gifts with friends and family to increase joy and spread it throughout our community.

Use the activity below as an alternative way to share gifts, focusing on the experiences we can create with and for each other.

Give the gift of being together.
Plan a series of shared experiences as gifts for each other. Decide on activities you can do together over the course of the holiday (or even on one night celebrating together). These could include learning new games, reading books, going on a nature walk, or playing dress-up. If you like, create a coupon or ticket for each activity, and surprise each other with each new gift experience.

Whether you giggle together while creating a dreidel dance, or learn about the story of Hanukkah through play, the festival of lights can be a time for you and your grandchild to bring light into each other’s lives. As you light the hanukkiyah and enjoy making latkes together either in person or through a screen, you can illuminate your holiday through creativity and discovery.

Jonathan Shmidt Chapman is the founder of The K’ilu Company, creating projects that activate Jewish early childhood education through theater and imaginative play. He is the creator of  K’ilu Kits — interactive audio adventures that bring Jewish holiday stories to life — and Play-Along Parsha — a resource for 3-to-6-year-olds and their families to creatively engage with the weekly Torah portion. Jonathan was previously the Producer of Family Programming at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

Photographic Credits
Banner and Latkes by Stephanie Fink

Diwali courtesy of Pexels
Hanukkah menorah sculpture by Jonathan Shmidt Chapman
Dreidel artwork by Deborah Zemke
Hanukkah scene by Seth Buchbinder