Faith Celebrations - Hanukkah

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Celebrating different faith festivals, holidays and occasions at school not only raises awareness among children about other faiths and cultures, but it can also instil pride in children to talk about days that are important in their culture. These celebrations can act as a springboard to further discussions about different faith, culture and community. Hanukkah or Chanukah is the eight-day Jewish holiday, beginning at nightfall on December 7 and ending at nightfall on December 15, 2023. Read on for 7 ideas to celebrate Hanukkah at your school.
A chanukiyah and gifts
A chanukiyah and gifts
Hanukkah or Chanukah as it is also known is the eight-day Jewish holiday, beginning this year at nightfall on December 7 and ending at nightfall on December 15, 2023. It is a time when family and friends join together to celebrate the survival of the Jewish religion and people's identities. On each day of Hanukkah, a candle is added to the chanukiyah (festival candlestick). Gifts are given, food is shared, songs are sung, games are played and traditional tales are told.
Here are 7 simple ideas of ways to celebrate Hanukkah at school.Perhaps these activities can act as the starting point for a wider discussion in the classroom about faith and worldviews.

1. Explore our Lyfta storyworld, Compassion is Key

Leah playing the violin from the storyworld Compassion is Key
Leah playing the violin from the storyworld Compassion is Key
Lyfta subscribers can explore our storyworld, Compassion is Key, which focuses on Leah, a 12-year-old Jewish girl from the Reform Jewish faith growing up in Denmark. Students can learn more about the Jewish faith as they meet Leah as she prepares for the Jewish rite of passage into adulthood called Bat Mitzvah. Lesson plans explore Judaism and students will learn about important practices like a Shabbat meal and reflect on the ways faith is expressed and practised in Judaism. The film in this storyworld shows the inside of the synagogue and we learn about the importance of the Torah.

2. Share stories

Share with the children the story and meaning and history of Hanukkah. The BBC have a good video here to get started. The story of Hanukkah is about something that happened that was impossible - a burning light was lit with enough oil for one day, yet continued to burn for eight days. Ask the children to think of something that they managed to do that they initially thought was impossible. It could be a sports challenge, a new activity they tried, or even some schoolwork. Or it could be a friend or relative that did something seemingly impossible. Ask them to either share their stories with the class verbally or by writing them down.

3. Dreidel, dreidel

A snow globe with a dreidel inside
A snow globe with a dreidel inside
Spinning the dreidel is a traditional game that is played at Hanukkah. A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top or a kind of dice that is spun. To play the game all you need is a dreidel and some countable tokens or "ante" such as chocolate coins, stickers, pennies, sweets or raisins. If you don't have a dreidel you could get the children to make paper ones. Spit the class into teams and start the competition. You can check out the rules of the game here.

4. Prepare a feast

Food is an important feature of any Hanukkah celebration. Traditionally foods that are fried in oil are eaten as a reference to the miracle oil that burnt for eight days. Popular foods are things like doughnuts, latkes (shredded potato fried in oil with applesauce or cream on top) and pancakes. Get the children to research popular Hanukkah foods and then celebrate by bringing in doughnuts and other items to share in class.

5. Oil and light

The Chanukiyah is a candlestick which is a familiar symbol for Jewish celebrations with nine branches representing the miracle oil that was lit for eight days. Eight candles symbolise the eight days of the holiday and an extra candle in the centre is used for lighting the rest of the candles.
Start a conversation with the children about oil lamps and their history. Get them thinking about how we managed for light before we had electricity. The children could do some research themselves about creating light before we had electricity. You could also get them to make a menorah out of recycled materials or do a drawing of one.

6. Compare and contrast the celebrations

This year Hanukkah happens over the same period of time as Christmas (although this is not always the case). Get the children to think about everything they know about Christmas and then everything they know about Hanukkah and then compare and contrast the two celebrations.

7. The gift of giving

Just like Christmas, an important part of Hanukkah is giving and receiving gifts. It wasn't traditionally part of Hanukkah until more recent times but was something that was incorporated because of the proximity of the festival to Christmas.
Use the gift-giving aspects of both Hanukkah and Christmas as an opportunity to talk to the children about those who are less fortunate and who might not receive anything at this time of year. Perhaps get the children to organise a food collection and all bring in an item or to run a cake bake to raise money for a local charity.

Using Lyfta to support further discussions about different faith, culture and community

Trailer to Becoming Me Storyworld
Talking about and celebrating different religious festivals at school is a great way to start a conversation about different faiths, cultures and communities. To take the discussion further take a look at Lyfta's Becoming Me series. This series of storyworlds centres around the lives of six young people from Denmark who come from different communities and have differing faiths and worldviews. We see how each of them approaches growing up, practising faith and being part of a community. The teaching resources (including 12 lesson and assembly plans) emphasise the diversity within and across religious traditions and illustrate the national context of the worldviews featured.
Each child's identity, worldview and sense of belonging is complex. Tackling these themes with students can be challenging, but it can also lead to impactful discussions that have cross-curricular value - particularly as part of religious education, but also as part of PSHE, citizenship, or any subject where discussing identity is relevant. Exploring these themes also gives teachers the opportunity to highlight the diverse ways in which people can express their identities and worldviews.

Lyfta resources for subscribers

Below are links to lesson plans and resources for RE that subscribers can use in the classroom. Not yet a Lyfta subscriber? Join a free training webinar for 30 days of free access.
Primary RE - Religion, peace and conflict
  1. How do we show respect to others — even when we don't agree? - Respectful disagreement
  2. What is peace and how can we create it? The art of living in peace
  3. How can different religious communities live in harmony? Mohammed's garden
  4. What are the similarities and differences between religious perspectives? Comparing perspectives: faith and belief
Secondary RE: Comparing world religions
  1. How do Muslims practice their faith? - Muslim practices and beliefs Part 1
  2. How do Muslims practice their faith (2)? - Muslim practices and beliefs Part 2
  3. How do Christians practice their faith? - Christian prayer and worship Part 1
  4. How do Christians practice their faith (2)? Christian prayer and worship Part 2
  5. What are Jewish beliefs and practices? Exploring Judaism Part 1 🚦
  6. What are Jewish beliefs and practices (2)? Exploring Judaism Part 2🚦
Cultural Capital
Diversity Equity Inclusion
Global Learning
Human Stories
Character & Values
Faith & Worldviews