The ol’ Pretzel Stick Menorah is a quick and easy activity for a class or party. It’s educational, it’s fun, and you can eat it.
I did this last year with K through 3rd grade, and everyone loved it, which is a boast I wish I could make about all my lesson plans. First, we turned off the lights and lit a real oil menorah, with blessings. This put everyone in a receptive mood and gave a heads-up that there are such things as menorah blessings. It also provided a real, working model of an object we were about to recreate with food, WHICH IS ABSOLUTELY KEY. Kids need concrete reference points when they dally in abstractions. The oil menorah also led to an unexpected discussion about oil vs. candles and when Jewish holidays begin. It was news to even a lot of the older kids that our holidays begin at sundown.
Next: I mentioned how the Talmud says to “publicize the miracle” by putting a menorah in a window, so passersby can see it. Thus, the window for our Edible Menorah is a piece of dark blue construction paper. Contrast this with just trying to fit the project on a paper plate. The window—a dumb piece of paper—adds context, meaning. One kid asked for black, because in his scenario, the sky was overcast. Win!
As kids start to arrange pretzel sticks and plan where to glue them (with frosting), you’ve got a built-in opportunity to discuss what makes a Hanukkah menorah kosher. How many branches on a Hanukkiyah? How many branches on the Temple Menorah? What is the difference between a Hanukkiyah and a menorah? How to distinguish the Shammash (helper) candle? And why do people always seem to use candles? Isn’t this holiday all about the oil? (Kids can make this project a oil menorah, too. It’s all about intention and imagination.)
The point isn’t to be the Kosher Police, it is to generate discussion and critical thinking. Some of my students ended up with menorahs no Rabbi would endorse, but did I point this out? Not after the frosting solidified, no. While the kids still fiddled with dry pretzel sticks, I might have asked them to re-count the branches or to make sure the Shammash was a little more “different,” yes. Some put the Shammash to the left, the right, in the middle, higher.
Everyone finished with the basic menorah around the same time, and I put bowls of flame candies on the tables. After each child lit his or her menorah, each child “lit in to” his or her menorah, i.e. ate it. (Food blessing for pretzel menorah: “minei mezonot.”)
- Snyder’s pretzel “Sticks” (Snyder’s make a tasty gluten-free version, too)
- Frosting or marshmallow fluff (or whipped cream cheese if you really must)
- Small, flame-colored candies (Hot Tamales, Mike ‘n’ Ike, jelly beans, candy corn) or for the candy-averse/allergic: drained mandarin orange slices.
- Black or Navy construction paper
- Wooden craft stick to apply frosting (or just use a pretzel stick)
- Wet wipes and hand sanitizer and a No Snacking Till Done rule
The Quicker How to:
1. Kids count out 8 pretzel sticks plus one for the Shammash.
2. Design the menorah. Will the Shammash be to the side or in the middle? Will the menorah be flat or have a stand?
3. Dab frosting onto one side of each pretzel stick and press to paper window.
4. Kids count out 9 flames and light the menorah.
(EDIT: We did this project again today and one student insisted on making a menorah that “stood up like real.” I was impressed. But my materials were not suitable for 3-D construction: Pillsbury frosting isn’t stiff enough to let whole pretzel sticks stand upright. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Here’s one way:
The base was two rows of pretzels with blobs of frosting in the middle. This foundation gave just enough support for half-stick candles. The bell rang before she could “light” them, which was just as well, as this would have required one of us to bite a Hot Tamale candy into tiny nuggets as mini-flames…