Put On Your Yarmulke, It’s time for Chanukah

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen, but can you recall eight traditions of the Hanukkah holiday?

How about any holiday carols for the upcoming Jewish holiday? What about the amazing dishes that go along with the Holiday of Lights?

In honor of the 8 nights of Hanukkah here are 8 bits of tradition and history to help you navigate the holiday.

8. Hanukkah is considered the Festival of Lights.

It starts on the 25th day of the 9th month of the Jewish calendar. Because the Jewish calendar doesn’t fall in line exactly with the Christian calendar, the start dates of Hanukkah aren’t the same each year. This year it begins at sunset on December 12th and ends at nightfall on 20th.

7. The most recognized symbol of Hanukkah is the menorah.

It’s the eight branched candelabra that holds the eight candles to be lit through the holiday, as well as a ninth candle called the shammus, or servant candle that lights the other eight candles. Candles are lit from right to left through the week. A blessing is said as each is lit and candles are traditionally allowed to burn out on their own, but can be blown out after at least 30 minutes if desired.

6. The significance of the eight nights and eight candles comes from the history of the holiday.

When the Jewish people were seized by the Syrian-Greek armies and forced to abandon their faith, there was a small group of Jews that rebelled against them and fought. This small group won against a much larger force and was able to reclaim their temples, but the Syrian-Greek army had defiled the religious building. In order to purify the temples, the Jews needed to burn the ritual oil in the temple’s menorah for eight days, but when they went to the temple there was only enough oil to burn for one night. Miraculously that oil lasted eight days leading to the eight days of Hanukkah that are celebrated now.

5. Very important to the tradition of Hanukkah are the prayers recited during and after the lighting of the candles.

There are multiple translations of the post-lighting prayer, but one of the most common used is the following:

We light these lights for the miracles and the wonders, for the redemption and the battles that you made for our forefathers, in those days at this season, through your holy priests. During all eight days of Chanukah these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them except for to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.

4. Another recognizable symbol of Hanukkah is the dreidel game.

The four-sided spinning tops were originally created to fool enemy armies who stumbled across students studying Jewish faith. The rebels took to studying their religion in the woods or in secret, but should the armies come across them they would pull out the dreidels and play until the enemy passed. Now children play with coins, nuts, or candies.

To play the game, when it’s your turn, spin the dreidel once. Depending on the outcome, you give or get game pieces from the pot:

a) Nun means, “nothing” – The player does nothing.
b) Gimmel means, “everything” – The player gets everything in the pot.
c) Hey means, “half” – The player gets half of the pot.
d) Shin means, “put in” – The player adds a game piece to the pot.

If you find that you have no game pieces left, you are either out of the game or can ask another play for a loan from their pot. When one person has won everything, that round of the game is over!

3. For children there is also the Hanukkah gelt, or money, to look forward to.

Small pouches of coins are often gifted to children during the holiday by relatives. While the children see it as just a gift, it also has symbolism behind it. In times when money was tight and families had to decide between buying the traditional foods and wine to celebrate or buying the candles to light, people would offer the gelt to the poor; they didn’t have to feel as if they were being given charity and yet they were still able to buy everything they needed to celebrate.

2. For those who feel like all you hear on the radio this time of year is Christmas music and wonder why there aren’t any carols for Hanukkah, there are!

They just aren’t your mainstream radio carols (unless of course you’re looking for Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song!) Song such as Rocky Fortress, Who Can Retell, and O Hanukkah are sung at temple services during the holiday season.

1. And of course there is the food!

No holiday is complete without amazing food. My favorite is my father’s latkes. He always made these when he made bean soup to bribe me into enjoying dinner. Here is an easy recipe even the least kitchen savvy spouse can whip up! Enjoy.


4 Large baking potatoes
1 Yellow Onion
1 Egg, beaten
1 Teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (you might want to keep a little extra incase the batter is too wet)
Black pepper to taste
Oil to coat a pan for frying


*Rinse potatoes.  Finely grate them into a large bowl. Grate onion and add to potatoes. Make sure to drain off any excess water.

*Mix in egg, salt and black pepper. Add enough flour to make the mixture thick.

*Heat oil on medium high heat. Drop ¼ cup of potato mix into the hot oil and flatten to make ½ inch thick pancakes.

Fry on both sides until they turn a nice golden brown color. Pull from pan and place on paper towel lined dish to drain excess oil. Keep cooked pancakes in the oven to stay warm until you’ve finished cooking the whole batch.

*Serve with soup or just a side of sour cream.

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