Lesson: Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights
The Jewish holiday Hanukkah literally lights up the home. The eight-day, 2,000-year-old holiday, also called the Festival of Lights, celebrates God's glory, an ancient victory of the Jews over their enemies, and the freedom Jews enjoy today.
The story of Hanukkah begins in strife. Antiochus, a Greek who was king of Syria, marched with an army of soldiers into the kingdom of Judea, home to many Jews. He insisted that the Jews worship the Greek gods rather than the one God they worshipped. When the Jews refused to worship the Greek gods, the soldiers attacked the Temple in Jerusalem and killed countless Jews. They stole holy objects. They even stole the sacred lamp, called the menorah, that stood before the altar. The lamp's flame, which always burned brightly, went out. That had never happened before. Special oil stored in small containers called cruses was always used to keep the flame alive. The soldiers dumped the oil all over the floor. As a last insult, they let pigs roam in the Temple.
The king returned to his own country, but the soldiers stayed on. They did not respect the Jewish Temple. They brought food and drink in, played noisy games, and shouted and laughed there. Jews could not say their prayers in the Temple.
One old man, Mattathias, wanted to fight to take back the Temple. He went with his five sons into the wilderness, where other families joined them. The men began to fight the enemy anywhere and in any way they could.
Mattathias became sick. He named one of his sons, Judah the Maccabee, the leader of the fighting band. For two years the Jews fought their enemy. Then one night they attacked Jerusalem, the enemy stronghold. Judah the Maccabee and his followers camped outside Jerusalem all winter. When the people inside had little food or water left, they attacked and overwhelmed the enemy. The Jews were free!
One of the first tasks of the Jews was to clean up the Temple. They restored the holy lamp -- the menorah -- but found only enough clean and holy oil to last one day. Yet the flames of the menorah burned steadily for eight days. With each passing day, the flames grew brighter.
From then on, every year at that time, Jews have celebrated with the Festival of Lights. Candles are lit at sundown for eight nights in a row. Today's menorahs have nine branches; the ninth branch is for the shamash, or servant light, which is used to light the other eight candles. (See image above, courtesy of Roy Lindman.)
People eat potato latkes, exchange gifts, and play dreidel games. And as they gaze at the light of the menorah, they give thanks for the miracle in the Temple long ago.
Hanukkah activities across the curriculum
Language Arts. Listening. Invite students to listen as you read aloud the above story of Hanukkah. Then ask the listening comprehension questions below to find out how well they understood.
Read aloud. Read aloud from one of the popular children's books about Hanukkah.
Art. Create a Noah's Ark Hanukkah Card. Adapted from Hanukkah Crafts: A Holiday Craft Book by Judith Hoffman (Corwin Franklin Watts, 1996).
You will need: a pencil, an 8-1/2- by 11-inch sheet of white paper, a fine-line black marker, colored pencils or markers, and a piece of ribbon or yarn.
Culture. Play the classic dreidel game that is often played during Hanukkah. A dreidel is a kind of top. The four letters on the four corners of the dreidel refer to the Hanukkah miracle.
Write and perform a radio show. Use the story of Hanukkah above and/or a book or two from the Resources list below. Arrange students in small groups to focus on a different but related aspect of Hanukkah. (An example would be a scene where the victorious Jews clean up their Temple and light the menorah again.) Have students rehearse their scripts and then do performances of radio broadcasts in the classroom. Tape record their broadcasts.
Article by Sharon Cromwell
Copyright © 2002, 2015 Education World