‘Tis the season to share tidings of good cheer! In A Season of Sharing we talk about how to spread the holiday spirit through more than just gift-giving. Exploring old traditions, creating new ones with family and friends, and learning how to express holiday greetings in different languages can help us all share a little more this year. Whether this is the first time you’ve learned about this Jewish holiday or you’re a dreidel spinning champion, this guide to Hanukkah traditions from David Kieve will quickly catch you up on this fun winter celebration for the whole family.
The “eight crazy nights” of Hanukkah celebrates two miracles that happened over 2000 years ago: The tiny band of local Jewish freedom fighters driving out Syrian-Greek invaders out of Israel, and the Second Temple’s menorah (lamp) staying lit for eight days even though it had enough oil to last only one. Hence, the Festival of Lights.
How Hanukkah Traditions are Celebrated
To celebrate these two miracles, Jews have a number of fun Hanukkah traditions. Most literally, we light a menorah for each of the eight days, starting with one candle on the first day and ending with eight on the last (plus a little helper candle to light the others). There are all sorts of fun candles available, including in rainbow colors and those made from beeswax.
To celebrate oil, Jews make delicious treats that we can eat for the eight days of celebration. These include potato pancakes called latke, jelly-filled or fried donuts, and whatever else you can make with a bit of miracle-worthy olive oil.
As if getting to eat donuts for dinner wasn’t enough, kids enjoy a couple more benefits on Hanukkah. One is that they get to play with a dreidel––a 4-sided spinning top with a letter on each side representing the first words of “Big Miracle Happened Here (or There, if outside Israel).” Which side comes up once the dreidel falls determines whether the player won or lost and by how much. The stakes are high since kids usually play for chocolate coins (the best currency in the world). Of course, adults can up the ante by playing for cookies or even fancy chocolates like truffles.
Kids also get actual money as gifts, called Hanukkah gelt. Traditionally, it’s not a lot of money, but that depends on how much your favorite bubeleh wants to spoil you. Just watch out for socks as gifts––the danger is real.
No wonder why everybody loves Hanukkah! We eat delicious oily food by candlelight, share gifts, and have fun as a family. What could be better?