This holiday season, while Santa is taking gift requests at Tysons Corner Mall, Judah Maccabee, the hero of the story of Chanukah, will be meeting children right around the corner.
Chanukah Wonderland is now in its third year, and this year's Wonderland will be the most elaborate yet. Much of the event, from Dec. 18 through Jan. 1, happens to fall during the schools' winter break, and there will be full entertainment schedules every day, said Rabbi Levi Deitsch, who is helping to stage the event through the Chabad Jewish Center @ Tysons Corner.
Entertainment will include a magician, sing-alongs, storytelling, a juggler, an olive oil pressing demonstration, candle making, a "mad science" show — which is new this year — and more.
Also new is Lego Land, where children can make various Chanukah toys from Legos, said Deitsch. At the arts and crafts stations, children and parents alike can make cards for Israeli soldiers, as well as place mats, pins and other Chanukah-related items. Games will include both the traditional dreidel game and the less traditional parachute dreidel game, in which participants bounce giant, inflatable dreidels on a parachute.
Wonderland-goers will also have the chance to make latkes and sufganiyots, which Deitsch said are like deep-fried jelly doughnuts. "I know it doesn't go too well with today's diet," said Deitsch, although he confirmed that they are quite tasty.
The Dreidel House tells the story of Chanukah, accompanied by music and pictures. This story also informs some of the Chanukah video games at the Wonderland computer station, where gaming competitions will be held.
There will also be a Chanukah store and a Chanukah café.
"The whole world is so busy with the Christmas season, and kids are all going to the mall," said Deitsch's wife, Miriam. "This is something to balance it out and give Jewish kids something to do for their holiday."
She said she expects this year's Wonderland to draw a large crowd, noting that the event grew from the first year to the second, which did not coincide with winter break. "All year round, we have people asking about it," she said, adding that children especially look forward to the event. "They wait all year long for this."
Heather Glick of McLean took her two sons to the last two Wonderlands and says she was surprised by how popular they proved to be. Particularly when an entertainment event is scheduled, she said, "it's amazing how many people are there. And that's great for the kids to see, too — to be part of a crowd for a holiday that doesn't get a lot of attention."
She said she and her sons especially enjoyed the Legos, brought in last year to build a giant Lego menorah, but which also ended up being used for a variety of individual projects. The Legos were popular not only with children, but also with adults, said Glick. "You would see adults ... and usually college-aged kids spending all this time building these elaborate menorahs and things."
Devorah Beitelman, whose husband is an administrator at the Fairfax Chabad, said the Legos were a favorite of her children's as well. "It's a very warm, inviting environment," she went on to say. "You can just stay there all day. I always had trouble getting the kids to leave."
"First of all, I love the name," said Robin Silverman of McLean, who has taken her children to the last two Chanukah Wonderlands. "There are so many Christmas things, and it's nice for the kids to have someplace really fun and magical to go that celebrates Chanukah."
She said her children liked the magician and making cards for Israeli soldiers, while her favorite part was live music and dancing, with Rabbi Deitsch himself singing.
Chanukah Wonderland will be open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon at 2095 Chain Bridge Road. Every day is free and open to the public.