in December, the Jewish Feast of Lights is celebrated during an eight-day period. This year Hanukkah runs from December 22 to December 30. It is a time for Jewish families and friends to celebrate with parties and home gatherings, gift exchanges and games and worship at their local synagogue. Each day of the festival, a candle on the menorah is lighted in memory of the time when the oil
The central observance of Hanukkah is the menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum, upon which families light an additional flame for each of the eight nights of the holiday. If the celebration is called for late afternoon or evening, chances are that someone will be lighting the menorah. They’ll say blessings, light the candles, and sing some traditional melodies. Men cover their heads. Attendees listen, watch and respond “Amen” after the blessings, being mindful of the wonderful miracles God did and continues to do.
Of all Jewish events, a Hanukkah holiday celebration is probably one of the most flexible, with the most room for creative improvisation, so there are very few hard, fast rules of what to do when. Invitations could feature candles and a menorah, a dreidel or a Star of David. Party decorations can be simple and traditional–use the Jewish colors of white and blue–silver is often used as the accent color. You can hang six-pointed stars or Hebrew phrases like “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” which means “A great miracle happened there” or “shalom” which is a greeting meaning “peace.”
Traditional Hanukkah foods are often dairy (commemorating the cheese that led to a pivotal victory) or fried in oil (because of the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days). Some classics are cheese or potato latkes (pancakes), commonly served with sour cream or applesauce, and donuts. and milk dishes like quiche.
A big part of Hanukkah is the giving of Hanukkah gelt, Yiddish for “money.” In some communities, this has morphed into giving gifts of all kinds. And this is the only tricky part. There is a good chance that you may be expected to show up with a gift. If you think this is the case, here is some advice:
You may as well make it something meaningful, consistent with the spiritual nature of the holiday.
Lastly, considering how difficult it is to guess what people want, you may want to just give cash or a gift card. This is also the most traditional track.
In recent years, the Hanukkah gelt has given rise to a new product: chocolate coins covered in tinfoil. If you see them served, you’ll know why they’re there.
At Hanukkah gatherings, it’s traditional to play a game called Dreidel, named for the spinning top that bears four Hebrew letters, one on each side. Each player starts out with some tokens (such as pennies, nuts or chocolate coins). The letter that is facing up when the dreidel comes to rest determines whether the player will contribute tokens to or take tokens from the central pot. At the end of the game, have everyone count their winnings and use the pennies and candies to purchase small, wrapped gifts prepared in advance.
Card games like gin, hearts, canasta and bridge are also popular at Hanukkah. When the fun is over, a special blessing thanking God for the food (there is also a blessing before the meal). When saying the blessing after bread, a special paragraph is added in which God is thanked for the miraculous victory that led to the establishment of Hanukkah.
Enjoy this special family Hanukkah party!