Hanukkah, also known as Chanukkah, often falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and contrary to what some may think, it isn’t a Jewish Christmas. Also known as the “Festival of Lights,” Hanukkah lasts for eight days and nights from the 25th day of Kislev to the 2nd day of Tevet in the Hebrew calendar. While Hanukkah is regarded as a minor Jewish holiday, it’s the ideal time for Jewish families to spend evenings together while they sing, eat and play games.
The First Day of Hanukkah
On the first day of Hanukkah, Jewish families and friends often congregate in their homes, spending time together, playing games, eating and basking in the warmth of each other’s company in the cozy atmosphere that tends to settle nicely over this Jewish holiday. On the evening of the first day, families and friends gather round for the lighting of the hanukkiah, sometimes called a menorah, a nine-branched candelabra. On the first day of Hanukkah, a member of the family, sometimes with the help of the children, lights the ninth candle, which is known as the “shamash” meaning servant. Once the shamash is lit, all those gathered recite the three blessings of Hanukkah.
Day to Day Hanukkah
Each day of Hanukkah is unique, and it’s especially fun for children, who spend each day eating, playing games and spending quality time with their parents and siblings. Each evening, the ceremony of the first day is repeated with the setting of the sun. The blessings are recited, one more candle lit, and most families, upon the lighting of the next candle, will sing Hanukkah songs such as Ma’Oz Tzur (Rock of Ages).
- Hanukkiah Placement: The Hanukkiah is placed in a window to the left of the door for the world outside to see and remember the story of Hanukkah.
- Traditional Hanukkah Food: Hanukkah celebrates the oil in the lamp burning for eight days in the Temple even though there was only enough for oil for one day. Because of that, traditional Hanukkah food is oily and consists of pancakes and donuts.
- Giving Gifts: Hanukkah is also a time when family members give each other gifts. Some families give each other gifts on every day of the eight day-long Hanukkah holiday.
- Spinning Top (driedel): Families gather round to play with the driedel, a spinning top, and often play for chocolate gold coins and nuts.
- Gold Coins: A symbol of Jewish independence, chocolate gold coins are passed around and used during games of driedel to spread good cheer and warmth.
The Hanukkah driedel
A lot of games are played each day during Hanukkah but the most popular of all is ‘driedel.’ Driedel is popular with children and babies too because of the gold coin prizes also known as ‘gelt.’ Players each put a gold coin or nut into the pot before spinning the driedel. Each side of the driedel has a symbol, one to win the pot, one for half the pot, one for nothing and one to place another gold coin or nut into the pot.
Food eaten during Hanukkah
Cooking and eating generally happen every day of Hanukkah; popular foods include latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (Hanukkah jelly donuts).
No two days of Hanukkah are the same in regards to the activities. Some days are filled with cooking, with the children often helping out, and other days are spent playing games. The one thing every day of Hanukkah has in common though, are the cozy evenings spent together to light the Hanukkiah and spend precious time with family and friends.