Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish holiday that begins in late November or December. It is a joyous time that revolves around family and especially children. Food is a big part of the celebration, with menus reflecting the historic events that are central to the holiday's origin. Whether you're a longtime observer or new to these traditions, use the recipes, menus and party suggestions here as a starting point for memorable gatherings!
The Festival of Lights
Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights. Each evening during this eight-day celebration, a candle of the menorah is lit to symbolize the temple's one-day supply of olive oil that miraculously lasted for eight days.
In another nod to the miracle of the oil, many Hannukah dishes are fried, including potato latkes (pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). Sufganiyot are traditionally made with strawberry jam or jelly, but modern bakeries are serving up custard-filled versions in chocolate, vanilla, cappuccino and other flavors.
Other favorite Hanukkah fare includes challah (a yeast-risen egg bread), matzo ball soup, beef brisket, and rugelach—crescent-shaped pastries filled with various combinations of nuts, fruit preserves, cinnamon, chocolate, poppy seeds and the like.
Each night during Hanukkah, a new candle is lit on an eight-branched candelabra called a menorah. A ninth candle, usually in the center, is used to light the others. On the last night of Hanukkah, all eight candles are lit.
A dreidel is a four-sided top that has a Hebrew letter inscribed on each side. The letters stand for the words, "a great miracle happened there." (In Israel, the letters read slightly differently and mean, "a miracle happened here.")
Playing the Dreidel game
Each player starts with a stake of candy or coins. Each player takes a turn by placing a portion of their coins in a kitty, and then spinning the dreidel. Whichever side the dreidel lands on determines what happens to the player's "wager:" neither win nor lose (Nun); take all (Gimmel); take half (Heh); or lose (Peh or Shin). When a player has lost all of their money, they are out; the game continues until only one player remains.
Hanukkah is about spending time with family. Part of the fun is having eight consecutive nights to celebrate the history and traditions central to the holiday. Plan on lots of family fun and festivities, including plenty of favorite foods, from latkes to rugelach!
Lighting the Menorah
The candles on the Menorah are lit from left to right. On the first night of Hanukkah, light the center candle (the shamash, or candle used to light the other candles) as well as the candle at the far left. On the second night, light the center candle, and the leftmost two candles. Continue on t the eight nights of Hanukkah.
The colors of Hanukkah are blue and white, but silver and gold are also appropriate.
For a tabletop, fold square blue napkins diagonally to form triangles; layer the triangles to make Star-of-David placemats. For a centerpiece, spray paint a few bare branches silver, and place in a clear or blue vase. Hang small blue ornaments on the branches for a beautiful effect—small dreidels, stars or candles cut from felt or heavy paper work well.
Traditionally, children receive Hanukkah gelt, or gifts of money; today this also includes chocolate coins wrapped in gold or silver foil. Another newer tradition is for children to receive eight presents, one for each night of Hanukkah. A fun (and affordable!) way to do this is to give a big present on the first night, small gifts on the middle nights, and one more big gift on the last night.