Teaching Culture: Hanukkah

Teaching about Hanukkah

Did you know that over 39% of the Jewish world population lives in the United States? Even though 5,700,000 Jewish people live in America, many people don’t know basic facts about Hanukkah. With the holiday starting Sunday, December 22nd this year, I figured now is the perfect time to break down some of the basics of this Jewish holiday and share some helpful resources for teaching about Hanukkah.

Origins of Hanukkah

First and foremost, why is Hanukkah celebrated? The Syrian-Greeks forbade the Jewish religion and desecrated a holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE. An army of Jewish rebels, the Maccabees, salvaged the Temple. Even though there was only enough oil to light a lamp for one day, the oil lasted eight days. Hence, the lengthy Hanukkah celebration each year.
The date of the Hanukkah celebration is based on the Hebrew calendar, a lunisolar calendar, meaning dates are based on solar months. This means that there is no set date that the holiday falls. Generally, Hanukkah begins sometime in November or December.

More about Hanukkah

While Hanukkah is well known, it is not the most important holiday of the Jewish religion. Rosh Hashanah and Passover actually hold much more significance in the Jewish religion. However, because of Christmas and other holidays that are celebrated around the month of December, Hanukkah has taken on more importance than it once had throughout the world.
Similar to many other holidays, Hanukkah is celebrated with festive foods. Jewish people fry foods to honor the significance of the oil in the lamp. One of the most well-known fried foods enjoyed are latkes, which are fried potatoes. There is also a lot of cheese included in Hanukkah celebrations, to acknowledge Judith. People honoring the holiday also feast on jelly doughnuts, chocolate coins called gelt, and noodle or potato casseroles.
*TRIVIA* The largest menorah in the world weighs 4,000 pounds and is 32 feet high. The most valuable dreidel is worth $14,000! That’s one expensive toy!

Teaching about Hanukkah

My Virtual Field Trip to Jerusalem for Hanukkah is the perfect way to explore the culture and traditions behind Hanukkah. Like all of my Virtual Field Trips, this resource integrates a variety of social studies and reading skills. Students also complete reading and writing assignments along with watching videos and completing thought-provoking exercises.

If you’re looking for a way to teach your elementary students about Hanukkah, my differentiated passages mini-unit is perfect for 2nd-4th grade. This includes leveled passages, comprehension questions, a foldable, writing, prompts, and a cute coloring topper to jazz up your bulletin board. You can grab it in my TpT store here:

I also created this Hanukkah themed freebie that I think you and your students will love! Simply enter your information below to receive it in your inbox.


Amazon has some great books for you too!

* These links are Amazon Affiliate links. If you order from one of my links, Amazon gives me a small percentage of the sale at no extra expense to you. This helps me maintain my blog. 
Oskar and the Eight Blessings is one of my favorites. It is about a Holocaust refugee arriving in New York City, It is the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. As Oskar walks through the city to his new home, he experiences the city’s many holiday sights, and encounters generous residents.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is about a traditional Jewish folk hero named Hershel of Ostropol. He approaches a village on Hanukkah, but is surprised to find no one is celebrating. A band of frightful goblins has taken over the synagogue.


The National Geographic book Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Hanukkah: With Light, Latkes, and Dreidels is an excellent nonfiction book with captivating photographs.

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