Hanukkah (HA-noo-ka) is a Jewish holiday that was first celebrated over 2000 years ago in Judea, now known as Israel. It is celebrated in late November or early December. The exact date is determined according to the Hebrew calendar. Hanukkah falls on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Jewish people over King Antiochus Epiphanes, a pagan tyrant from Greece, who tried to destroy Judaism in 165 BC. It also celebrates the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. To understand Hanukkah, you must be familiar with the history behind it.

Prior to the reign of Antiochus, the Jews lived in relative peace under various rulers and kings. Though their rulers changed, their lives were generally unaffected. One tradition that was particularly significant to their culture involved going to their Temple in Jerusalem. They called their Temple "The House of God" and it was considered a very sacred place. It was decorated with many precious objects. Among those precious items was a lamp that burned continuously, symbolizing the enduring faith of the Jews.

However, when Antiochus came to power, he placed many burdens upon the Jews. They had to pay high taxes and he tried to force them to replace their Jewish laws and traditions with Greek ones. He even forced the Jews to take a new high priest, Menelaus. The new high priest began to steal from the Temple and send precious gold and silver to Antiochus. This made the Jews angry. While Antiochus was fighting a war in Egypt, a small army of Jewish soldiers surrounded the temple to force Menelaus out.

Fearing that the Jews were rising up against him, when Antiochus returned, he caused his army to storm the Temple. They tore down the city walls and stripped the Temple of anything they could carry. The soldiers placed a Greek idol upon the golden altar and allowed pigs to run within the sacred grounds. Jews were threatened with death if they refused to worship the new idols. The soldiers drank the holy water and set fire to books containing holy writings. Amongst all the chaos, the oil in the lamp was spilled and the light in the Temple went out.

Because Antiochus had his army storm the Temple on the Sabbath, the Jews wouldn't fight back. Thousands were either killed or carried off and sold as slaves. However, later, a man named Matthias refused to obey the king's men. He took his five sons and others who would follow him into the mountains where they planned how they might regain their right to worship as they pleased. King Antiochus sent an army after them, but they were unsuccessful in defeating Matthias and his men. Under the direction of Matthias and then later his son, Judah, ordinary farmers and shepherds learned to fight like brave soldiers. Judah was nicknamed Maccabee, meaning "the hammer" because of the way he fought King Antiochus' men.

Finally, after many battles, the king's army was beaten by Judah's men. Jews consider this to be the first miracle of Hanukkah.

The Maccabees, another name for Judah's army, returned to Jerusalem where they found their Temple abandoned and defiled. The sight made them very sad, but they immediately set forth to cleanse and rebuild the Temple. When it came time for its rededication, Judah and his men looked for oil to re-light the lamp, but they could only find enough for the lamp to burn for one day. However, the lamp continued to burn for eight days and nights until more oil was made. Jews consider this to be the second miracle of Hanukkah. The Jews have continued to celebrate Hanukkah ever since.

Symbols that are associated with the celebration of Hanukkah include the menorah (meh NOAR-uh), dreidels (DRAY-dels), potato latkes, and gelt. The menorah is a special candelabrum that holds nine candles. The middle candle is call the shammash (SHAHM-mahs) or server candle because it is used to light the other candles. It usually stands a little bit higher than the others. Candles are lit after sundown on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. On the first night the server candle is lit as well as the first candle on the far right. On the seven succeeding nights another candle is added from right to left until all eight candles are lit. The family member who lights the Hanukkah candles recites traditional blessings. The menorah represents the miracle of the lamp burning for eight days on barely enough oil for one. A dreidel is a small top with four sides. Each side is marked with a Hebrew letter (nun, gimel, hey, and shin). The letters stand for "A Great Miracle Happened There," referring to the two miracles of Hanukkah. There are many variations of this game that children enjoy playing as they celebrate Hanukkah. Potato latkes, similar to pancakes, are a traditional food eaten around Hanukkah time. They are generally made by combining grated potatoes, eggs, onions, flour, and salt. Then they are deep-fried in oil to symbolize the lamp that burned for eight days when it only had enough oil for one. Gelt is Hanukkah money. In many homes, children are given gifts and Hanukkah gelt, which may be used in dreidel games.



Adler, D. (1982). A Picture Book of Hanukkah . New York: Holiday House.

Ehrlich, A. (1942). The Story of Hanukkah. New York: Dial Books.

Lakeshore Learning Materials. (1993). Hanukkah Celebration Box

Speirs, J. (1993). Hanukkah, oh , Hanukkah! A Treasury of stories, songs, and games to share. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group.

Warner-Nest Animation (Producer). (1995). Maccabees: the story of Hanukkah (videotape). Irving, TX: Living History Productions. NOTE: Distributed as part of the Animated Hero Classics series.

Warren, J. & McKinnon, E. ( 198 8). Small World Celebrations. USA: Warren Publishing House.




1. Students will explain why Hanukkah is celebrated by Jewish people.

2. Students will recognize symbols associated with the celebration of Hanukkah and understand what they represent.


3. Students will recognize that an understanding can be achieved among people of different religious backgrounds.

4. Students will appreciate celebrations unique to certain people through understanding why they occur.


Approximately 5 class periods or one full day of activities.


Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas by Michael J. Rosen

The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate by Janice Cohn


A. THINK/PAIR/SHARE: Have students identify what they already know about Hanukkah. Have the students pair up and share their ideas with a partner. Then invite various students to share what they know with the whole class.

B. K-W-L: Using the facts and ideas students came up with during the Think/Pair/Share, create the Know part of the K-W-L. Write their answers down on a piece of chart paper that may be referred to later. Then discuss as a class what questions students have about Hanukkah as well as what they would like to learn more about in relation to it. This will create the What you want to learn part of the K-W-L. Again, be sure to record the questions and ideas on chart paper for later reference. Throughout the unit, try to address any questions the students had and seek to correct any erroneous information. Finally, at the conclusion of the unit, complete the what we Learned part of the model.

C. STORY MAP: Read A Picture Book of Hanukkah aloud to the students to acquaint them with how Hanukkah began. Focus their attention on the main characters, the setting, and the plot of this historical narrative. Following the story, complete the story map found in the appendix.

D. BULLETIN BOARD: Using color copy illustrations from The Story of Hanukkah , create a bulletin board version of the story map. Have students retell the story in their own words in a manner that goes along with the illustrations.

E. JIGSAW: To acquaint students with different symbols associated with Hanukkah, divide the class into three cooperative groups. Assign one of the following symbols to each group: menorah, dreidel, potato latkes, and gelt. Provide each group with appropriate reading material about their symbol. Give students time to read, reflect on, and discuss the material in their groups. Then, divide the class again so that there is one student from each "symbol" group to form new groups of four. Then mak each student responsible for sharing the information about their particular symbol with the rest of the group. To insure accountability, conduct a small quiz afterwards.

F. LITERATURE EXTENSION: Provide each student with a copy of the Anticipation Guide included in the appendix for Elijah's Angel . Have students complete the first column on their own. Then divide the students into groups of four and have them collaborate to fill out the second column. Make sure they come to a consensus. Read the story Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas aloud to the students. Then have them work together in their groups to complete the third column. Invite some open discussion based on whether their personal or group responses were different from the author's point of view and why. See if any students would like to change any of their initial responses on the Anticipation Guide after reading the story.

G. DECISION TREES: (You may want to do this activity throughout the unit rather than just at the end.) Read The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate aloud to the students. Stop at the point where Isaac's parents allow him to choose whether or not he will put his menorah back up in his window (about p. 18). Distribute "Decision-Making Tree #1" and have students complete. Divide students into groups according to their answer and have them discuss how they would justify their choice. Continue reading the story and stop again before reading the last paragraphs. Pass out "Decision-Making Tree #2 and have students fill it out. Again, invite students to discuss their responses and share why they made decided the way they did. Make it clear to the students that there is no right or wrong answer; they just need to be able to justify why they chose the way they did. Finish the story. Make the connection that some people believe that to this day, Jews are still trying to fight for the right to worship as they please. Discuss this idea in terms of rights, respect, and responsibility.

H. NUMBERED HEADS TOGETHER: Divide the class into groups of five students. Pass out the quiz from the appendix and have students follow the directions shown to review the material learned. Then designate one question from the quiz for each student in the group to answer. Individual scores should be determined by how well the students perform on the quiz as a group.



The appendix includes the following items:

1. a sample story map that may used with A Picture Book of Hanukkah

2. a sample anticipation guide that may used in conjunction with Elijah's Angel

3. two sample decision trees that may be used with The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate

4. sample quiz to be used for "Numbered Heads Together"



Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas

M.....My Opinion +.....AGREE

G......Group Opinion --.....DISAGREE

A......Author's Point of View



_____ _____ _____ 1. People with different backgrounds shouldn't be friends.

_____ _____ _____ 2. It's important to convince other people to have the same religious beliefs as you.

_____ _____ _____ 3. It's okay to share religious beliefs that are important to you with others.

_____ _____ _____ 4. It's okay to listen to others share religious beliefs that are important to them.

_____ _____ _____ 5. It's important to respect people who have religious beliefs that are different from ours.

_____ _____ _____ 6. What a gift mans to you doesn't have to be the same as what it means to the giver.



DIRECTIONS: Make sure everyone in your group can answer

the following questions.


1. What are the two miracles of Hanukkah?


2. What are two symbols associated with Hanukkah and what do they represent?


3. What people celebrate Hanukkah?


4. What time of year is Hanukkah celebrated and when was Hanukkah first celebrated?




The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate


If you were Isaac, would you put the menorah back up in your window? Why?



The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate

If you lived in Isaac's town, would you put a menorah up in your window? Why?