"It's about a miracle," says five-year-old Whitney Barnett, who is busily glueing nine Popsicle sticks on a sheet of colored paper to represent a menorah. "It was Judah Macabee's war. They fighted the bad king. The king was very bad and all the people got away because they didn't like the bad king. I know it was a miracle because it lasted for eight days."

"Did you watch Miracle on 28th Street on TV yesterday?" asks Whitney's kindergarten classmate Duke Fox, who is not too sure of his New York geography.

Meanwhile, Elana Wolin, the children's teacher at Capitol Hill Day School, who has already lit a real menorah for the children, made latkes, or potato pancakes, and told them about the holiday, is starting more children on the project.

"Okay, Meredith,you could use Popsicle sticks, Q-tips, paper straws, yarn or pipe cleaners for the candles. The easiest way is to lay them out before you paste them. And you have to make sure you have a base -- so the candles aren't just floating around in space. You can cut a strip of colored paper for the base. . . How many candles are on a menorah, Katie?"

Counting the candles in the other children's pictures, Katie Dye comes up with the number nine.

"Yes," says Wolin, "but the one in the middle -- the one that's taller than the rest -- is just a lighter. Now what do you need, Jamal? What else does a candle need?"

Jamal Davis, whose candles are magenta pipe cleaners, knows that the answer is flames and begins shaping some from some pieces of foil wrapping paper, and the conversation at the table returns to the history of Hanukah.

"They had the war, and the Jews won," says Meredith Lewis. "They won it because there was a miracle because it lasted for eight days."

"Remember my menorah that I brought in?" asks Wolin. "We didn't use candles. We used oil. There wasn't a holiday called Hanukah then. The miracle wasn't that Hanukah lasted for eight days. The miracle was that the oil lasted for eight days."

MAKING A MENORAH: For younger children, Wolin suggests making a symbolic, two-dimensional menorah, either by the method described above or, to represent an oil-burning menorah, by gluing walnut shells or egg-carton cups to paper. For older children, she suggests making a usable menorah out of thread spools in three sizes. You'll need nine large spools, nine small spools, ten medium spools and a piece of wood for a base. Paint the wood and the spools. When they are dry, assembler the menorah, using household cement. Attach the nine large spools to the base, spacing them evenly. Cement a medium-size spool to each large spool. To the center spools -- which represent the shamash, or lighter -- cement a second medium-size spool. On top of all nine stacks cement a small spool. Decorate with beads, shells, buttons, beans, Star of David cutouts, or whatever.

HANUKAH HAPPENINGS

THE NORTHERN VIRGINIA JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER celebrates Hanukah Sunday from 2 to 5 at Annandale High School, 4700 Medford Drive. The Bob Brown Marrionettes will perform at 3 for children four to eight. There will also be craft workshops, a candle-lighting ceremony, an open gym for teens and a performance by the Kallil Dancers, and a Hanukah gift boutique. Adults may listen to a lecture, attend an art exhibit or watch the Redskins. Call 323-0880 for details.

THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER celebrates Sunday from 1 to 4 at Lafayette School, Northhampton and Broad Branch Roads NW. Singer/guitarist Barry Polisar will perform for children at 3. There will also be a sports "Maccabiah' or Olympiad, crafts workshops, dough sculpture, storytelling, Hanukah food, performances by the Kallil Israeli folk dance troupe and by singer-guitarist Rochelle Helzner. A candle- lighting ceremony will conclude the afternoon. Call 328-8087 for information.

THE JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER OF GREATER WASHINGTON will hold a family festival Sunday from 2 to 5 at the center, 6125 Montrose Road, Rockville. The celebration includes a multilingual puppet show, a musical production for children, Israeli dances by the Kallil Dance Troupe, games, singing and story-telling. Children and adults may make their own menorahs, dreidels and mizrach wall hangings in crafts workshops. There will also be Israeli dodgeball games, a pre-school Maccabiah and a synchronized swimming exhibition. Hanukah foods will be available and the festival will conclude with the lighting of a huge outdoor menorah at 4:45 with a torch carried from the Israeli Embassy by relay runners. For information, call 881-0100.

ADAS ISRAEL CONGREGATION offers a party in its youth lounge at Connecticut and Porter Streets NW Sunday from 12:15 to 3 for children from four to seven. The $2.50 fee includes lunch, singing and arts and crafts. For information and reservations, call 362-4433.