Hanukkah happenings

Menorah lightings. Family-friendly parties. Storytimes. Arts & crafts. There’s plenty to do as Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days beginning at sundown Wed, Dec 1, this year. Many festivities are open to both those who celebrate Hanukkah and those who do not.

I often wonder what it’s like to be Jewish — or Muslim, or Hindu or Buddhist — in a country so focused on Christmas this time of year. And I wish there were more opportunities for our children to explore other religions and philosophies.

I want my children to know, and appreciate, that we are a country of many faiths and world views. Attending diverse holiday celebrations is one way to assure your children know about and respect others’ beliefs. Here are some ideas (and children’s books) to get you started…

Several menorah lightings take place each Hanukkah around the state. This year’s offerings include a “Grand Menorah Lighting” on Thurs, Dec 2, at 5:30pm at the Westgate City Center in Glendale. Lightings will also be held in Phoenix, Mesa, Fountain Hills and Anthem. You can click here to see a list of options.

These ceremonies are lovely even for those who don’t celebrate Hanukkah, but it’s important to remind your children that lighting a menorah and lighting a Christmas tree aren’t merely different ways to celebrate a single season.

Hanukkah and Christmas fall at similar times each year, but commemorate vastly different events. Each tradition, like all traditions, is worthy of our respect and worth knowing about as educated members of a global community.

Storytimes can help introduce young children to the events commemorated during Hanukkah, and give them a greater appreciation of the holiday’s origin, meaning and significance. Barnes and Noble at Desert Ridge Marketplace holds a “Chanuhak Storytime” with stories and crafts Tues, Dec 7, at 5pm. Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe hosts a “Hanukkah Celebration” with stories, songs and shopping on Sun, Dec 5, at 1:30pm.

Several Valley organizations offer family-friendly Hannukah parties open to all. Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center in Scottsdale hosts a free and open to the public “Hanukkah Family Holiday Party, Boutique and Vendor Fair” Sun, Dec 5, featuring an “Israeli style party with arts anc crafts for children.”

The vendor fair — featuring artwork, jewelry, clothing, books, toys and more — takes place 11am-4pm. The party runs from 1-3pm, and includes a premiere screening of the new “Shalom Sesame” DVD series — in which Grover invites children to help him search for the missing menorah.

Comprehensive lists of Hanukkah events and resources are available from various Jewish organizations and businesses, such as the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. Those eager to find more events can also check with their local synagogues, Jewish community centers and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix.

Check the calendars of local museums, libraries, bookstores and arts/cultural organizations throughout the year for free and easy opportunities to teach your children not only about your own beliefs and values, but also those of their friends, neighbors and classmates.

My favorite holiday — “Diversity Day” — doesn’t exist yet. Maybe someday we’ll all know and respect enough about the beliefs and traditions of our fellow human beings to make such a holiday obsolete. That’s my holiday wish this year…

— Lynn

Note: Those of the Hindu, Jain and Sikh religions celebrated Diwali on Nov 5 this year, and Muslims celebrated Eid al Adha on Nov 16. Kwanzaa takes place Dec 26, 2010. To learn more about 2011 holidays of the world’s major religions, click here to see an interfaith calendar.

Coming up: Experience Jewish arts and culture with the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company; Schools, performance art & tax credits; One woman’s “Hair” obsession; News from Arizona’s 2010 Thespian Conference

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