The Festival of Lights

Hanukkah is a holiday that holds a special place in my heart. The holiday itself is based on a tale of triumph over adversity, and the celebration of it is steeped in traditions that involve food, song, play and unique symbols. I grew up in an area that had a significantly higher Jewish population than average. In the northern suburbs of Chicago, it’s not unusual at all to see Hanukkah sections in the grocery store, menorahs in people’s windows, and Hanukkah songs being featured prominently at school assemblies. As I’ve traveled though, it has become very clear that my experiences growing up were not typical for most people. I’ve had both friends and co-workers ask me questions about the meaning behind Hanukkah and the background on traditional symbols like the menorah and dreidel.

Last night, I was thrilled to be able to share our family’s tradition with my good friend and colleague, Jannita.  She spent the night at our house and joined us to celebrate the third night of Hanukkah.  My son lit the candles and we all sang the two blessings over them.  Afterwards, we had a fantastic meal, which included potato pancakes of course, and played a few rounds of dreidel.

In that one evening, we touched on all three major symbols of the holiday.  The menorah is the candleabra that you light when the sun goes down.  It may have been the third night, but  you actually light four candles.  The one candle which sits higher than the rest is called the ‘shamash’, which means helper or servant.  After lighting the shamash, you pick it up and use it to light the others.  We eat potato pancakes because it is tradition to eat foods cooked in oil on Hanukkah.  The holiday is based upon a miracle that occurred when a small jar of oil somehow lasted eight full days.  And finally, the dreidel itself has four sides, each side inscribed with a letter representing a word.  String them together and you get “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” which means “a great miracle happened her.”

Hanukkah seems like such a simple holiday at first glimpse, but once you start digging in, there are an incredible number of layers, each with their own meanings and subtexts.  That’s why I was so excited to see the Holiday Facts and Fun: Hanukkah video from Zaption.  It combines some videos from Discovery Education with checks for understanding and reflective questions, making it perfect to share with both students as well as friends!

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It was a real treat being able to celebrate the holiday with Jannita, because it gave us an excuse to talk more about the rituals that we often don’t really pause to think about.  Every culture has their own traditions and it is important for students growing up to be global citizens to have an opportunity to explore them.  That’s why I hope you’ll join us in participating in the Celebrate the Holidays global collaborative learning experience we have going on right now.  There are more Zaption tours to learn from, holiday less starters, and two projects for your students to dive into.

Learn how holidays are categorized and the elements that make them unique by using the Discovery Education lesson starters, featuring resources from Discovery Education and video tours from Zaption. Then, register your class to participate in creating an interactive map showcasing the Favorite Holidays of students around the world.

Want to take learning a step further? Have students apply what they learned about holidays to create their own celebration commemorating a person, place, or event. Allow them to invite others to share in their celebrations by adding their creations to theInvent a Holiday interactive map.

Ready to dive in?  Visit the launch page and #CelebrateWithDE this year.

Happy Hanukkah and I wish you and your students a wonderful holiday season!

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