Parents on the lookout for fun and exciting ways to keep the flame of the Festival of Lights alive during the day have found the answer to their prayer in dozens of Chanukah Wonderlands that have popped up across the United States.

Spearheaded by local Chabad-Lubavitch institutions from Baltimore, Md., to Rancho Mirage, Calif., the Wonderlands are part family fun day, part open market and part theatre. And while over the years, Chabad Houses have become well-known for their giant public menorah lightings, parents say the daytime – and children’s themed nighttime – activities are just as important.

“We went several times last year and we were happy to see that each night, there were new activities, and always something for each age group,” reports Ann Arbor, Mich., resident Stacey Lee, who took her then three and six-year-old daughters to the downtown Chanukah Wonderland organized by local Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Shternie Zwiebel. “It definitely kept my kids interested and excited for the whole week.”

Many of the more popular Wonderland attractions draw on the traditions of the holiday itself, such as an olive oil press where kids watch how oil was prepared in the days of the Holy Temple before pressing a little oil for their own menorahs.

Others are designed for pure fun. An assortment of moon-bounces, magic shows, musicians and arts and crafts help keep kids engaged and excited, say organizers.

This year’s Chanukah Wonderland in Ann Arbor, for instance, opened Dec. 13 with a live fire-juggling show, while Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois held its holiday festival at Chicago’s Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg.

“This is only the second year that we’ll be having a Wonderland in the Chicago area,” says Megan Ensign. “People are excited about the fact that we’re bringing it back this year, and kids are especially looking forward to building the Lego menorah.”

Hindy Plotkin, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Greensboro, N.C., is hosting the city’s first Chanukah Wonderland at the local Children’s Museum. She designed a program that builds on the museum’s attractions, finding a way to link each one to the holiday.

“We’ve designed our own costumes and props to make use of the mini-theatre at the museum,” she explains. “Kids who come to the Wonderland will be able to dress up and act out the Chanukah story and other stories from Jewish history.

“We’re also using the video room to screen a Chanukah film from the Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn,” she adds.

Out in the Open

As at other places around the country, Plotkin is providing a variety of hands-on crafting activities so that kids can make their own menorahs, dreidels and other Judaica items. The museum is promoting the event as part of its winter holiday series, encouraging people to come and learn about Jewish traditions.

“This is something completely new to Greensboro, to have a Jewish holiday being celebrated so publicly,” says Plotkin, who opened the Chabad House with her husband Rabbi Yosef Plotkin last year. “The Jewish community is very excited, and I think people are going to be blown away by it.”

Chabad of Northern Virginia is partnering with Chabad at Tyson’s Corner and Chabad of Alexandria to host 10 days of activities and attractions at the Chanukah Wonderland in Tyson’s Corner. In its eighth year, the program has grown into one of the largest with more than 4,000 square feet of attractions, including a Chanukah Café and Chanukah Superstore as well as several mini-kitchens where guests can prepare latkes and fried doughnuts, crafts kiosks, a computer center, and a variety of live entertainment.

For many, the growth of such festivals underscores the importance of being able to celebrate Chanukah as a family and with the rest of the Jewish community.

“A big part of this event is definitely just the atmosphere,” says Zwiebel. “It provides Jewish parents with what other parents take for granted: a chance to take their kids downtown and have a fun holiday experience, one that relates to what their family is celebrating at home.”

Lee agrees, adding: “It adds so much to the holiday to have our own space as a community, to run into other Jewish families and socialize with them, and to be celebrating Chanukah together.”