Explaining Holidays to Kids

BlogHer Original Post

It happens every so often -- you're talking to a kid and they innocently ask you what Chanukkah-Christmas-Kwanzaa-Solstice-Diwali-Zamenhof Day is all about (because they celebrate something else), and you start stumbling through the answer. I mean, I know what Chanukkah is about BEFORE someone asks. In my head, it is absolutely, perfectly clear, and I can even visualize miniature Macabees engaging in guerrilla warfare.

But when Rita's daughter asked me about it over Skype, it sort of came out as a bumbled mess. And I knew it was a bumbled mess from the confused look on her face.

So let me start over again in explaining Chanukkah, and I would love you to chime in and explain your fall/winter (or, if you're in the Southern Hemisphere, spring/summer) holiday. Whatever celebration falls during the winter months. Because in continuing the conversation with Rita, I realized that I was woefully ignorant of most other religion's festivities beyond a cursory amount of information.

Explaining Chanukkah to Non-Jewish Kids

What is the best part about a playdate? It's the other kid's toys, right? I mean it rocks to go to their house and see what things they have that you don't and get a chance to play with those toys for a while. Playdates would be a lot less fun if everyone owned the same toys and had their rooms set up in the same way and had the same snacks in their house. And once you look at the world that way, you realize that it's really cool that we're all different.

So if someone came in and said, "you can't be yourself anymore; you have to be like me," the world would become a really boring place. But that's sort of what happened to the Jews a long time ago.

This guy named King Antiochus wanted to take over Jerusalem, so he came in with his army and they fought the people in the city and ruined their temple. And once he was in charge -- like a big bully -- he told the people there that they couldn't be Jewish anymore. And not only that -- he took all the things that were important to them and ruined them just to show them how little he liked their religion. And this went on for three years and the people were pretty miserable.

Then, a man named Mattathias and his five sons fought back. His most famous son -- Judah -- became the leader of the fighters once their father died and people called him Judah Macabee (which meant "Judah the Hammer"). And finally, they won. And to mark the end of the war, they cleaned up the temple and made it perfect again to show that Jews were allowed to be Jews once again.

And now, many years later, we still remember that big bully who told everyone that they couldn't be themselves and they had to be like him. And we celebrate because being unique won out.

And that's sort of the simple version of the story.

To celebrate, Jews light a candle each night on the chanukkiah (a type of menorah), increasing the number of candles by one every night. So on the first night, you light one candle. The second night, you light two candles. On and on until the eighth night when all eight candles will be lit plus the shamash, which is the helper candle used to light all the other candles each night.

We eat a lot of fried foods such as sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes). We have a toy called a dreidel or a sevivon that is part of a game. On each side of the dreidel is a letter which are the initials for the sentence: "nes gadol ha'ya sham" or "a great miracle happened there." (In Israel, dreidels have a different set of letters so it reads: "new gadol ha'ya po" or "a great miracle happened here.")

So that's Chanukkah in a nutshell (and to all the adults reading this post, I know I know that it gets a bit more complicated than that, but remember, we're talking about religion with kids).

And now, how would you describe Christmas, Kwanzaa and everything in between if you were talking to a child?

Photo Credit for the Chanukkiah: Andydr.
Photo Credit for Dreidels: Juliejigsaw.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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