Jewish Celebrations for Kids
Written by: Lindsay Shugerman
January 8, 2013
Filed Under Holidays
Contributed by Info Guru Lindsay Shugerman
There are times when it seems like we spend more time dragging our kids to Jewish events than we do enjoying the events and holidays and celebrations as a family. So I thought it might be a good idea to talk about Jewish celebrations FOR kids. Especially for kids.
Sure, these are the same holidays and events you’ll find on a synagogue calendar. But I’m focusing on the kid-aspects of each, in a way we adults sometimes forget. And who knows … you might even rediscover some of the magic yourself.
Whether you observe a “traditional” Shabbat, or take a more modern approach, Shabbat can be wonderful — or awful– for kids. Make yours into a kid-friendly celebration by involving them in preparations like making the Challah or a special dessert.
Have a special set of toys and books that are only used on Shabbat. Reserve certain games, movies or destinations for Shabbat, or create a special family event you only do on that day.
9. Tu B’Shevat
Tu B’Shevat (the New Year of the Trees) is a natural for kids! So why do most of us ignore it entirely?
Get your kids excited about the holiday by letting them plant things … trees, flowers, vegetables. The “what” doesn’t matter as much as the activity. Give them pots of dirt and packets of seeds, and let them dig while you share the meaning in kid-appropriate terms. Then let everybody feast on fruit … ideally something new or something you haven’t eaten yet this year. Food and dirt … what kid wouldn’t love that?
8. Summer camp
It’s not a holiday, but for lots of kids summer camp is one big celebration. Maybe it’s being away from mom and dad, in a place where college kids are considered the “adults”. Or maybe it’s the crafts and sports and campfires.
But whatever the reason, a Jewish sleep-away camp can and should be a time celebration for kids. Send them with a new sleeping bag, their very own prayer book or journal, and let the good times happen.
There’s been a movement of late to turn Hanukkah into a “serious holiday”, with the focus on the risk of assimilation. That’s all well and good, but when it comes to kids, I say “Let them eat … er, um … jelly donuts!” (Marie Antoinette would approve!)
Of course, you want to share the story and the message of Hanukkah. But you also want to celebrate! So bring out all the menorahs you have, and light them all every night. Play dreidyl with your kids, and let them win all the M&M’s. Give each other silly gifts each night (don’t forget gifts for the dog and cat, too), then pick a Hanukkah story book and make it a family tradition to read it every year.
6. Simchat Torah
When Simchat Torah comes around, why not give each child their very own kid-sized “Torah” scroll, and have everyone dance around the house and yard? Crank up the music, and join in. Or join in a Simchat Torah parade at your synagogue or a Jewish day school.
In some synagogues, the entire Torah scroll is unwound around the room … the sight of this huge scroll stretching from person to person is something most kids love to see … and truth be told even us jaded adults get a kick out of it, too!
5. Rosh Hanshanah
Rosh Hashanah is one end of the High Holiday observance, but unlike Yom Kippur at the other end, this holiday offers a wonderful chance to celebrate with kids.
Tradition tells us that Rosh Hanshanah is not only the New Year (which means dipping apples in honey … a wonderfully sticky activity kids love!), it’s also the birthday of the world. In my family, that means baking the world a birthday cake and carrying it out under the stars to sing a resounding “Happy Birthday” to the world. Then we sit down to share the cake under the night sky … a perfect chance to talk about the holiday, too.
To kids, a Sukkah can be as much fun as a playhouse or a make-believe fort, so why not build on that natural delight in pretending and make the holiday one of your kids’ favorites? After all, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, too. Pretending we too are there, with our ancestors, dwelling in a temporary shelter far from the comforts of home.
Get into the story, let your kids help you make the “make-believe” feel real (we get pretty bad at that as we grow up, you know), and you might find new meaning in the holiday yourself.
The entire purpose of the Passover seder is to tell the story of the Exodus to the children, so it will never be forgotten. So how did we get from that to endless, boring, dry booklets of “Thee’s and thou’s” with the kids playing under the table or falling asleep?
Reclaim the meaning and purpose of the holiday, and make it a story your kids can’t wait to hear. Use Passover-themed toys and books and props to tell the story — and bring the story of the Exodus to life.
This is one holiday that already works for kids and adults alike. There are costumes. There are baskets of sweets and treats. There’s even an official cookie for this holiday! Just play along, and enjoy. On Purim, we all get to be a part of the kids’ party.
1. Bat or Bar Mitzvah
For some, it’s the end of “official” childhood and the beginning of grown-up Jewish responsibilities. For others, it’s the party they’ve been waiting for their whole lives. Either way, this is an event that deserves celebration.
Make sure your kids are involved in the planning from the start. Keep the Bat or Bar Mitzvah kid-focused (do you really need to invite everyone from your firm?), and you’ll be on your way to creating a day you and your child will never forget.