Did You Know?
The word "Hanukkah" means "dedication" but also shares the same root as the word "educate." An alternate spelling is Chanukah.
The eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, commemorates the triumph of the Jews over their oppressors in ancient Israel. According to legend, when the Jews reclaimed their temple, they found only enough oil to create light for one day, but the oil lasted for eight days; the lighting of Hanukkah candles symbolizes that miracle. A menorah has nine holders, one for each night plus one for the shamash, the candle used to light all the others. The candles are placed from right to left, then lit from left to right; the new candle is always lit first.
Sitting down to a Hanukkah meal with family and friends is as significant a part of the celebration as lighting the menorah candles. Like the candles, the oil used to fry potato latkes and cook the traditional jam-filled doughnuts, called sufganiyot, recalls the miracle in the temple. After dinner, the children play dreidel, a game that uses a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The letters are the initials of the words that together mean "a great miracle happened there." We've also used dreidels to adorn our ribbon-tied napkins (below).
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For many families, it is a tradition to exchange presents on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah; here are some inventive ways to wrap them:
- adorned with a Star of David, with half the star cut and folded back to expose paper in a contrasting color beneath. The bottom gift is encircled by a dreidel-chain cut from silver paper.
- wrapped in blue and white paper with cutouts of the Star of David. Paper dreidels can be used as gift cards.
Chocolate coins covered in foil, called gelt, are given to children as Hanukkah gifts, along with trinkets wrapped in a festive design -- like a cut-out hey, one of the Hebrew letters on the dreidel.
Enlist your children's help in preparing these festive decorations: Construction-paper chains and dreidels are made in blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag.
Let the kids make flame headpieces from red and yellow construction paper, then entertain the grownups with the story of the menorah.
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For Jewish children, the dreidel game has long been a favorite part of the Hanukkah celebration. The dreidel, a four-sided top, has a Hebrew letter on each of its sides -- nun, gimmel, hey, and shin, the first letters of the Hebrew words meaning "A great miracle happened here." The Hebrew letters on the dreidel later came to stand for different words in Yiddish, a dialect spoken by Jews in Europe and Russia; in the rules of the game, these Yiddish words correspond to the outcome of each spin of the dreidel
RULES FOR PLAYING DREIDEL
1. Each player receives a set amount of gelt (chocolate coins covered in foil) or real coins.
2. Before each spin of the dreidel, the players put a fixed amount of their gelt in the pot, or kupah.
3. Each player takes a turn spinning the dreidel.
4. When the dreidel falls, the letter displayed on top determines the action of the player (the Yiddish words are given here with their translations):
Nicht (nothing) -- move on to the next player
Gut (good) -- take all the gelt in the kupah
Halb (half) -- take half the gelt from the kupah
Schlecht(bad) -- the player loses all the gelt he or she deposited into the kupah
5. A player who loses all of his or her gelt is out of the game.
6. The game continues until there is no more gelt in the kupah.
7. The player with the most gelt wins.
We offer this file in a portable document format, or PDF, in order to make the details clear and printable. To view and print the file, you need a program called Adobe Acrobat Reader, which most browsers already include. If you have trouble downloading the file, or if you’d like to upgrade Acrobat Reader, you can obtain the software for free from Adobe's website.