Celebrations and Festivals of Light – Diwali and Hanukkah

Understanding different celebrations and festivals provides children with important knowledge and understanding of other cultures.

In many faiths, light is seen as a symbol of hope, with good triumphing over evil and light over darkness.


What is Diwali?

Diwali is the Hindu Festival of Lights and celebrates the Hindu New Year. It is celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs all over the world. Diwali translates as, row of lighted lamps, from the Sanskrit, dipavali (dip meaning light, and avali a row or line).

Diwali or Festival of Lights, is held in honour of Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Hindus pray to Lakshmi to bring them good luck for the coming year. Many people pray to Lakshmi and Ganesh, the God of wisdom and good luck. Diwali clay lamps, diva lights, are left burning all night so Lakshmi will feel welcomed and enter, remembering the return of Rama and Sita, in the story of Ramayana, showing how goodness triumphs over evil.

How is Diwali celebrated?

Hindus celebrate with their families and friends for five days, each day having a special significance. It is a very exciting and colourful holiday. People decorate their homes and temples by drawing Rangoli patterns on the ground outside. Children have a holiday from school, gifts are exchanged and delicious holiday food is prepared. New clothes and jewellery are worn, parties are held, with fireworks and firecrackers lit to ward off evil spirits.

Sikhs also celebrate Diwali at this time, to commemorate the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, and 52 princes.



What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. Jews celebrate Hanukkah to commemorate the Miracle of the Oil. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means ‘dedication’. Over 2000 years ago, the Jews in Judea, rebelled against their Syrian ruler, Antiochus, because he wanted all Jewish people to worship Greek Gods. After three years of war, the Jews defeated Antiochus, and to celebrate they restored the Temple of Jerusalem and rededicated it to their God. As part of the celebrations, they lit an oil lamp, which should have been kept burning all the time, even though they could only find enough oil to keep it burning for one night. A miracle occurred and the oil lamp stayed lit for eight days, the time it took to make new oil for the lamp. This was the Miracle of the Oil.

How is Hanukkah Celebrated?

Every year, Jews remember Hanukkah with an eight day Festival of Lights. They celebrate the Miracle of the Oil by placing eight candles in a Menorah, a special candlestick, and lighting one candle for each evening of the celebration. People display the Menorah in the window, or near the front door, and the Hanukkah lights remind passers-by of the holiday’s miracle. During Hanukkah, people exchange gifts and give to those less fortunate. Games are often played, pinning the dreidel, a traditional Hanukkah symbol, is a popular Hanukkah activity.

How you can bring Festivals of Light into the Early Years

Within the Early Learning Goals, Religious Education makes an active contribution throughout, however is primarily significant within personal, social and emotional development and knowledge and understanding of the world.

It is important to incorporate learning about different cultures and festivals throughout the children’s day to day activities and help them to learn positive attitudes towards those with different identities to their own.

  • Allow children to explore some religious artefacts related to Hanukkah or Diwali to appreciate the significance of these special objects.
  • Display photographs and books for children to look at and talk about.
  • Create a role play or small world area with dolls or toys.
  • Use fabric and dressing up clothes in role play to engage with different cultures
  • Get creative – make your own Diwali lamp using clay or card
  • Play games associated with different religions such as dreidel which is a four sided spinning top game played during Hanukkah
link to hanukkah and Diwali resources

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