Chanukah Candles

This unit is about Chanukah candles: how and why they are lit, the symbolic significance of lighting candles and the idea of spreading light and its cultural and personal significance.

Unit Ages: 6-8, 9-11 | 2-3 lessons


The main mitzvah of Chanukah is to light Chanukah candles over the eight days of the holiday. This candle-lighting commemorates different events in the holiday story: the victory over the Greeks and the purification of the Temple, the relighting of the menorah in the Temple and the miracle of the little jug of oil. The miracle of the little jug of oil is also commemorated through the eating of fried foods such as latkes (potato pancakes), sfinj and sufganiyot (donuts). In this unit, we’ll see how the candles also serve as a metaphor for the triumph of good in the world.

Desired Outcomes

Big Ideas

The motif of candle-lighting symbolizes the idea of spreading goodness in the world, as is also expressed in the story of the holiday.

Essential Questions
  • How are symbols used in celebrations and holidays?
  • How do Jewish rituals and practices enrich the way I experience my life and the world?
  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • The students will be familiar with the custom of lighting candles and how this custom relates to the holiday story.
  • The students will be familiar with the symbolic meaning of lighting candles.
  • The students will know how the custom of eating fried foods is connected to the holiday story.
  • The students will know how to light Chanukah candles according to the traditional rules (how many candles to light and the order in which they are lit).
  • The students will know how to say the candle-lighting blessings.

Assessment Evidence

What evidence will students provide to demonstrate that they:
Know the knowledge; Can do the skills; Can respond thoughtfully to the EQs and BIs

The teacher will determine a means for assessment before beginning to teach the curriculum module.

Learning Experiences

Possible Unit Plan

Possible unit opener:

Show the students a picture of a menorah and a chanukiyah next to each other. Ask the students what they see in the picture and what the relationship is between the two objects in the picture. Why does the chanukiyah have places for nine candles?


Content study:

  • Start off by studying the resource Chanukah Candles, which teaches about the rules for lighting the candles and how they relate to the holiday story. To provide enrichment for older students, you can use the resource The Enlightening Dispute Between Hillel and Shamai, which teaches about the debate over how the candles should be lit. That lesson serves as a springboard for learning about the idea of “debate for the sake of heaven.”
  • Learn more about the idea of light in the context of Chanukah. The resource Light and Darkness, which is aimed at young children, addresses the meaning of light and darkness on a personal level. The resource Light – A Symbol of Good, aimed at older children, addresses the cultural significance of light, as reflected in the Chanukah story, in other parts of Jewish culture and in other cultures, for example, in celebrations of the winter solstice.
  • With older students, you can use the resource Light in Art to learn more about the significance of light. That resource focuses on the work of Claude Monet, who created a series of works that depict the same place under different light conditions. This resource teaches about what we can learn from this for our own life and about different points of view, objective and subjective.


Unit closing / assessment:

Lighting candles symbolizes the victory of light over darkness. Suggest activities that highlight this symbolism, like decorating Chanukah candles with positive words spelled out in colorful wax. You can also compare lighting candles with doing good deeds that spread light and minimize darkness. You can ask the students to each choose one good deed that they will do that day and to draw or write that deed on a candle. Hang up all of the candles in the classroom and together you’ll increase the light.