Winter is here, and that means one thing: Hanukkah is on its way!
We love everything about the holiday. After all, Hanukkah has cool traditions, amazing food (and endless parties to eat it at), a fantastic story, and – possibly best of all – gifts for days.
Whether you’re a seasoned festive pro or a holiday novice, getting ready for Hanukkah can be a daunting prospect. There aren’t just one or two days to plan: Hanukkah is an eight-day, non-stop extravaganza. Whether you’re celebrating alone or hosting your family and friends, you need to plan ahead and be prepared. Here’s our guide to planning the perfect Hanukkah!
The glowing Hanukkiyah – menorah – is the focus of every Hanukkah celebration. The burning candles are a tangible reminder of the Hanukkah miracle: after the Temple was desecrated, the Maccabees found one jug of pure oil with which to light the menorah, and miraculously, this oil lasted for eight days.
On each of the eight nights, we light a corresponding number of candles (so one candle on the first night, two on the second and so on). The Hanukkiyah has nine branches, as it leaves room for the shamash or “helper” candle which is used to kindle the other lights.
Before we light candles, we recite a couple of different blessings. This is followed by two different songs, Hanerot Halalu and the much more famous Maoz Tzur.
To light Hanukkah candles, you need:
- A Hanukkah menorah
- 44 Hanukkah candles (or pre-filled oil cups, or glass holders, oil, and wicks)
- The text for the blessings (find that here)
This fun game is a Hanukkah favorite, as the little spinning tops are credited with helping Jewish children and their teachers survive the Greek’s harsh laws in the Hanukkah story. Teaching Torah was forbidden, so when the Greeks approached, the clandestine study groups would hide their books and instead play dreidel.
All you need are dreidels and a big pile of chocolate coins, raisins or similar for hours of family-friendly fun! You can find the rules on how to play dreidel here.
If you’re throwing a Hanukkah party, colorful dreidels make great, on-theme party favors.
Of all the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah probably has the best food. Because oil played such a significant role in the story, it’s traditional to eat fried foods, and the perennial favorites are latkes – fried potato pancakes – and sufganiyot – soft, fluffy donuts filled with sweet, oozing jelly. Check back here in a couple of weeks for our unbeatable latke recipe!
There’s also a tradition to eat dairy foods on Hanukkah. Part of the story’s miracle came about thanks to a woman called Judith who fed a commanding Greek officer cheese to make him thirsty, and wine to put him to sleep. While he slept, she hammered a tent-peg through his head, killing him and helping the Maccabees to victory.
Keep it traditional with latkes served with sour cream and applesauce, and add fried eggs and a salad for a simple meal. For a fuller festive dinner, serve up a warming soup followed by latkes, roasted veggies, and a rich but carb-free main like eggplant parmigiana. Or for a double dose of fried cheesy goodness, consider indulging your holiday guests with gooey, crispy mozzarella sticks!
The original Hanukkah gifts were simply coins given to children to encourage them to learn… but the commercialization of other winter holidays means Hanukkah gifts have become increasingly more extravagant.
If you’re hosting a lot of people, here’s an idea to save everyone a lot of money: instead of each person buying gifts for everyone else, play Secret Santa Mystery Maccabee (also known as Hanukkah Harry)! Everyone is randomly allocated one person to surprise with a secret Hanukkah gift on the night – and you can keep costs down even more by setting a price limit.