The Other December Holiday – Hanukkah

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December 19, 2011

Hanukkah may not enjoy the same name recognition (or consistent spelling) as Christmas, but it is a fun holiday with its own family traditions. And gifts and chocolate. What’s not to like?

For kids, the gift giving is a particular appeal, and one of Hanukkah’s many assets (at least from a kid-friendly point of view) is eight nights of presents. For parents, this can be a bit of a nightmare, worsened when you have more than one kid. You have to satisfy your kids night after night. Some of my Christian friends think eight presents is too extravagant; others say it is not enough.

From a practical standpoint, I think Hanukkah has more social opportunities than Christmas. So you can’t make one night of Hanukkah? Big deal – there are seven more. If you are getting together with family, you have several choices, and if you are trying to schedule both sides of the family, you can easily have two celebrations.

In New York holiday concerts in preschool and elementary school always include a Hanukkah tune or two. When my daughters were in middle school, they sang in a show choir that performed around New York for the holidays. They sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” in Latin and “Hanukkah O Hanukkah” in Hebrew.

You can also find menorahs in store windows, alongside Christmas trees. My daughters’ art projects would include making a menorah, the candle holder that you use each night of Hanukkah. These always came with strict instructions that they were decorative only; when you are burning candles for a couple of hours, you want to use a non-flammable menorah. These were not.

Some years, we also made our own menorah candles, with a candle dipping kit. Not quite trimming the tree, but still fun.

On Hanukkah, you play with a dreidl, a spinning top that has four sides. You give each kid a pot of pennies to start, or walnuts in a shell, and depending on what your dreidl says (in Hebrew, of course – this is an educational holiday) you give something in, take something out, take half, or do nothing. When I was a kid, we always used walnuts for the game, and then my uncle would impress us by cracking open the nuts with his bare hands.

The most well known Hanukkah food is latkes, or potato pancakes. The Hanukkah story is a miracle of light, where the Maccabees only had enough ceremonial oil to last one night, but it lasted for eight. So Jews eat latkes fried in oil, and sufganiyot, or jelly doughnuts.

Another treat is gelt, the chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil that people give to kids. Many children play dreidl with these coins too.

Do you celebrate Hanukkah and have any other traditions to share?

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