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Hurray for Hanukkah: the Festival of Lights

Every year around Christmastime, it’s also the time of Hanukkah – the traditional Jewish holiday celebration. This holiday observes several of the same customs of Christmas, but also holds its own traditions that are important.

My husband is Ashkenazi Jewish and we celebrate both holidays in our home. Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah is celebrated at a different time every year. The dates of Hanukkah are based on the Hebrew calendar – which is lunisolar. The Hebrew calendar is used to determine when Jewish holidays are observed, and which parts of the Torah should be read.

HanukkahHanukkah is the traditional celebration of the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem during second century B.C.

The story goes that when the Jews revolted over the Greeks and won– they wanted to light the menorah, but they only had one day’s worth of oil – which miraculously lasted for eight nights. This is why Hanukkah lasts for eight nights and why you may hear about “the miracle of Hanukkah” and why it is also called “the Festival of Lights”.

Every night has a two specific prayers. The first night has a specific prayer only said on the first night. The first prayer is said as a blessing of the candles. The second prayer expresses thanksgiving of the miracle of deliverance that Hanukkah remembers. The third prayer marks new beginnings and joyful occasion of Jewish life.

Like any holiday – whether Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa – it’s all about the food!

Usually one night of Hanukkah (or it can be all of them – depending on the family!) – is celebrated with a big meal. Traditional Hanukkah foods include potato latkes (with or without sour cream and/or applesauce), brisket or chicken, Sufganiyot (similar to jelly doughnuts), kugel (made with egg noodles or potatoes) and Hanukkah gelt (gold wrapped chocolate coins). All of these foods are to be served kosher.

 Something fun you can do with your kids to teach about the holiday is to play dreidel.

A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The game is a little similar to poker – there’s a pot that everyone contributes to and each side of the dreidel means a different action happens to the spinner. The letters on the four sides of the dreidel together mean “A Great Miracle Happened There” or shin, hey, gimel and nun.

You can look up videos on YouTube on how to play exactly. It’s a fun way to burn up some time with the kids and teach them something new. You can buy dreidels at the dollar store. Some are simple and some are elaborate. Some even come with characters on them.

Similar to Christmas – Hanukkah comes with gifts!

Every family makes their own traditions in this realm. Some give gifts every night for eight nights and some do one big gift with small gifts for the remaining seven nights (similar to stocking stuffers).

If you’re like me- it isn’t a good holiday time without…..THE MOVIES!

Hanukkah doesn’t have the following that Hallmark Christmas movies do, but boy it has some good ones! It isn’t Hanukkah at our house without Rugrats Chanukah (the difference in spelling has to do with translation), Eight Crazy Nights and Mistletoe and Menorahs playing at some point.

A little different than other traditional Jewish holidays- there is no synagogue ritual for Hanukkah. The holiday is celebrated mostly in the home – with family.

Singing songs, eating fried food, spinning dreidels, exchanging gifts and gelt, lighting the menorah and saying the prayers are all the biggest parts of the tradition of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is a wonderful time of year, similar to Christmas but not quite the same. If you’re looking for something new to teach your kids during the holiday time, you can get challah bread at Great Harvest Bread Co or Trader Joes, latkes at Trader Joes (or you can use tator tots or hashbrown patties) and you can get a menorah at almost any big box store. Jewish or not – Hanukkah can be celebrated by anyone and new traditions are always fun during holiday time!

Chag Urim Sameach!


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