Celebrate the Festival of Lights

By Merri Cohen, Marlboro-Manalapan, NJ PM and Sharon, Camarillo & Oxnard Publisher December 10, 2022

Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah) is the eight-day Jewish "Festival of Lights," this year from December 18th through 26th.  Each evening for 8 days, at sunset an additional candle is lit on the menorah to commemorate the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. 

The holiday  celebrates the miracle of one day’s worth of pure ritual oil burning for eight days until a new supply could be obtained.  “The message of Hanukkah is one of hope in the face of extreme adversity.  It’s a message with broad appeal to everyone who believes in religious freedom and that faith and determination can triumph against even the most overwhelming odds.”

Some of the fun holiday customs include eating foods fried in oil -- latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel and the giving of Chanukah gelt (gifts of money) to children.

As you may know, there are 8 nights to celebrate the wonderful holiday of Hanukkah. Here are 8 special ways to celebrate each night.

1) Celebrate with your community. There are several Chanukah celebrations in our area--at Barnes & Noble, The Children's Museum and the Menorah Lightings in Norcross, Suwanee, Johns Creek and The Forum in Peachtree Corners. Chabad also holds Chanukah programs throughout the country, click here to find ones in your area.

2) Cook up the oil! It is customary to eat foods fried or baked in oil (preferably olive oil) as the miracle of the Chanukah menorah involved the discovery of a small flask of pure olive oil. This small amount of oil was only supposed to last one day, but miraculously it lasted for eight! Traditionally, potato latkes fried in oil are eaten. But, don't limit yourself to potato latkes--you can make zucchini latkes, sweet potato latkes, apple latkes, or sufganyiot (donuts). Hungry Girl even has a recipe for a no-guilt faux-tato pancake.

3) Light up the night! The most important custom of Chanukah is to light the menorah each night for 8 nights. For a guide to lighting the menorah and Chanukah prayers, click here. Some families own a menorah for each member of the family, and they have a table full of beautifully lit candles. Don't forget to "publicize" the miracle of Hanukkah by putting an electric menorah in your window.

4) Spin the Dreidel! Did you know that dreidel comes from the Yiddish word, "drey"--to spin. A game similar to the dreidel game was popular during the rule of Antiochus. During this period, Jews were not free to openly practice their religion, so when they gathered to study Torah they would bring a top with them. If soldiers appeared, they would quickly hide what they were studying and pretend to be playing a gambling game with the top. For a guide to playing the dreidel game, click here.

Last year, our whole family played with colored chocolate gelt and had a blast making up rules as we went along. You can also have dreidel contests to see who can spin the top the longest, who can spin it the farthest, etc. Some wise guy even took a dreidel, combined it with poker, and created a game called "No Limit Texas Dreidel Game.

5) Have a sing-along and storytime. There is more to Chanukah songs than "I Have a Little Dreidel" (although I do love that song). One beautiful custom is to sit by the glow of the Chanukah lights and sing songs together. Our family always sings "Chanukah, O Chanukah" after we say the blessings. Click here for lyrics and audio versions of this song, as well as other traditional Chanukah songs like Maoz Tzur or Al Hanissim.

Make sure you sit down for a Chanukah storytime to retell the miraculous story, and how the Maccabees managed to drive the Syrian army out of Jerusalem and reclaim their temple.When the Jews prepared to rededicate their temple by relighting the "eternal flame," after driving out their oppressors, they had just enough consecrated oil to burn for one day, but the oil miraculously lasted for eight days until new oil arrived to fuel the flame. Click here for the full Chanukah story.

6) Give Tzedakah (charity or good deeds). Teach your children that Chanukah is more than just getting gifts. Dedicate one night to giving back to others in need. Collect toys/gifts for a local toy drive, bring canned food to a local food bank, or donate winter coats and accessories to local shelters or coat drives. Or visit an assisted living center or nursing home to celebrate Hanukkah with some of the residents. You can also light Hadassah’s Virtual Menorah and donate $18/Chanukah candle to help support Hadassah's extraordinary work in the environment, medicine and health, Israel, children, and education.

7) Throw a Party! Gather friends, family, or neighbors together to celebrate Chanukah together. Have a potluck dinner, dessert party, a chocolate gelt hunt, or a dreidel tournament. What about a latke exchange, game of Chanukah bingo, or even Chanukah Mad-Libs. Or you can make edible crafts together such as menorah made with bread, pretzel sticks, and craisins or a dreidel made from pretzel sticks, marshmallows, and Hershey kisses. For more party ideas, click here.

8) Take Action for the Environment-- In the story of Chanukah, a small amount of oil, which should have lasted for only one day, miraculously sustained a flame for eight days. When it comes to the consumption of the world’s natural resources we are, unfortunately, unable to make them stretch as far as the oil in the story. Chanukah reminds us of the importance of conserving our natural resources so that we, much like the flame in the story, will continue to thrive. Some examples include replacing regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb, driving less, recycling more, lower thermostat, use less hot water etc. For eight different ways to help the environment on each night of Chanukah, click here.

Happy Chanukah!

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