Eight Crazy Nights: How We Celebrate Hanukkah

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Growing up, the only “experience” I had with Hanukkah was listening to Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song. I also knew Ross and Monica on Friends were half-Jewish. That’s about it. Then I met a really sweet Jewish guy in college, converted, then married him. And now, parents to two small kids, we celebrate Hanukkah every year, making our own happy memories. As a child that grew up on happy Christmases, I am now an adult making sure my kids grow up on happy Hanukkahs.

If you don’t know anything about Hanukkah, welcome! I’m excited to show you how we celebrate. This year, Hanukkah starts at sundown on Sunday, November 28th, and ends at sundown on Monday, December 6th.

First, a little history lesson about Hanukkah…

  • Hanukkah is the Hebrew word for dedication. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 2 BC, which occurred after the Maccabees (or Israelites) overthrew their oppressors who had defiled it.
  • Once the Maccabees regained their temple, they wanted to purify it by burning ritual oil for eight days, but they only had enough oil for one night. The miracle of this holiday was that the oil lasted for the full eight days. That is why we celebrate.
  • We light the menorah (or hanukiah) each night for eight nights, adding a candle every night and saying the blessings. We light them from left to right and let them burn out on their own (except for one night a couple of years ago when my son thought they were like birthday candles…).

Second, how we celebrate (with a sprinkling of fun facts)

  • As mentioned above, we light the candles each night at sundown and say our blessings over the candle. With adult supervision, our 5-year-old will most likely want to be the candle lighter. We like to add a new menorah to our collection each year – this year our son is getting a space rocket menorah.
  • Speaking of lighting the candles, here are a couple of fun facts. The middle candle that is higher than the others is the “shamash,” and is used to light the others. And by the last night, we will light 44 candles total, per menorah! 
  • As we watch the candles burn, we enjoy dinner together. Some foods we love to eat while we celebrate the holiday are brisket, challah, latkes (or potato pancakes), and kugel (a deliciously sweet noodle dish). But I’m already prepared for our kids to eat their usual chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. More latkes for me!
  • After dinner, both kids will get one wrapped present. They will get one present per night, so eight gifts each. Think of it as an extended Christmas morning gift unwrapping, but with a smidge more anticipation and a big lesson on patience.
  • Then, we play dreidel! Dreidel is the traditional gambling game played during Hanukkah. You gamble using gelt (chocolate coins). To learn more about this game and how to play it, check out this page on My Jewish Learning. My husband likes to play “extreme dreidel,” challenging himself to toss the dreidels off our second-floor loft to see if they will still spin below.
  • Repeat that for seven more nights and you’ve got yourself a Hanukkah celebration. A lot of candles, a lot of delicious food, and a lot of fun. Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday)! 

Do you celebrate Hanukkah? Share with us! We’d love to hear what your favorite traditions are that you celebrate with your family.

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