During the holiday season, Jewish parents may feel some pressure to “compete” with Christmas. And kids exposed to all the yuletide hooplah might experience a bit of Christmas envy.

Because of where it falls on the calendar, Hannukah has become the Jewish answer to Christmas—even though it isn’t. “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” can’t quite compare with “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” playing in every store or with the sheer volume of elves, reindeer, candy canes, and Christmas decorations.

Still, there are ways to make Hannukah as fun as possible for kids, so they can get in on the excitement around the holidays, too.

Decorate

Part of making any holiday festive is departing from the norm. Peppering the house with Hanukkah tablecloths, colourful dreidels, a Star of David garland, and colourful menorahs gives the sense that something special is happening.  You may shy away from public displays, but kids are so bombarded by twinkly lights and over-the-top decorations for Christmas at this time of year that getting involved by decorating for Hanukkah can help them take some ownership of the holiday season.

Make Hanukkah Crafts

Decorating for Hannukah is more fun when you DIY some of the décor. You could have each kid make his or her own menorah to light, for example. You’ll find loads of Hannukah crafts on Pinterest or on blogs written by crafty mamas with step-by-step tutorials. For example, this paper-plate menorah from Carolyn at Simple Play Ideas. For those of us who need additional direction (and materials) we recently discovered these Chanukah craft kits from Rite Lite—make your own menorah or design your own dreidel.

Give Good Gelt

The tradition of giving Hanukkah gelt is an old one. Though the gifting used to be of actual money, these days it’s all about the chocolate coins. Unfortunately, most of the chocolate gelt out there is of the waxy, flavourless variety. But a bit of searching can yield better-quality chocolate gelt.

Divine Chocolate makes excellent milk chocolate and 70% cacao dark-chocolate gelt in partnership with Fair Trade Judaica. You can find them at some Whole Foods Markets or online. Or you could make your own gelt out of a chocolate you love.

Get Creative with Giving

You may downplay or eschew altogether any gift-giving for Hanukkah, but many parents do give a small gift each night or one big gift. Receiving even a small token gift each night is exciting for young kids especially.

To make the whole thing less…material, some parents ask kids to find eight toys to donate to charity before they get new gifts. Or you could go with non-material presents and give the gift of experiences instead, to focus on family time together rather than “stuff”.

And as an alternative, you could create a mitzvah calendar where kids give rather than get.

Attend Hanukkah Celebrations

JCCs and community centres in most cities host Hanukkah celebrations for kids and families. Whether they’re community menorah lightings, craft or cooking workshops, small affairs with games and gelt for kids, or huge fun fairs with rides and bouncy castles, these events are an opportunity for kids to hang with other kids who are celebrating the holiday, too.

If your city or town doesn’t have much going on, throw your own Hanukkah party! Play dreidel, give gelt, listen to Hanukkah music, and eat.

Cook and Prep Food Together

Who doesn’t love a latke? Hanukkah is we get a license to indulge in fried food—so take advantage! Make inventive sufganiyot like PB&J versions or donut holes. Spice up your latkes with sweet potatoes or beets, let kids pick toppings or mix-ins, or even make sweet latkes for dessert. (See this recipe for Mexican chocolate latkes with cinnamon whipped cream—yes, please!)

Make It Meaningful

Many of us tend to go about celebrating holidays without really explaining to the kids the meaning behind them. When children understand the why of celebrating Hanukkah, they can get more involved and fully participate in the traditions. If you’re at a loss as to where to start, try one of the many excellent Hanukkah children’s books recommended by PJ Library.

A fun album for kids is Canadian singer-songwriter Fran Avni’s Latkes and Hamentashen, a collection of contemporary, upbeat songs about Jewish history and tradition.

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