Whether it’s your family’s first Hanukkah or you’re looking to have a more meaningful holiday season, you might want to break out that menorah and get ready to start celebrating. But if you’re clueless as to how to commence the Hanukkah festivities, these 10 Hanukkah traditions you can start tonight can help you bridge a closer bond to the Jewish faith—and your family.
Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is an eight-day celebration that celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC. The Jews fought against the Greek-Syrian rulers, and defeated them in what come to be known as the Maccabean Revolt. It celebrates the miracle of how one day’s worth of oil in the rededicated Temple burned for eight days. And that’s why Hanukkah lasts for eight nights.
That’s why practically any activity that involves light and oil is going to be popular during Hanukkah. And let’s not forget about the food, either. Latkes and doughnuts (and pretty much anything you can fry in oil) are also a menu must-have.
So as the sun starts to set, look to these 10 Hanukkah traditions you can start tonight — and that your family will remember always.
Look To The Light
Hanukkah is also known as “The Festival of Lights,” so having a menorah is an important part of the holiday. “The bare minimum requirement of Hanukkah is for each family to light one candle each night,” says Rabbi Dave Mason, author of The Age of Prophecy. “This is one of the rare instances in Judaism, where virtually everyone goes above and beyond the minimum, and not only do we increase the number of candles each night, but usually, each person in the family has their own Hanukkah menorah.” So encourage your kiddos to participate in the tradition by lighting a candle each night.
Pick A Personal Spot
You can place your menorah anywhere in your home, but ideally, it should be somewhere visible to the people in your neighborhood. “The candles should be lit outside your front door or in a window to publicize the miracle of Hanukkah,” says Rabbi Mason. “When done right, this lets your house literally glow onto the streets and makes it feel and look special.” Get your gang involved by asking them to pick a spot that would be perfect for the menorah. It might move from the dining room to the living room (or even a kid’s bedroom)—just be sure it’s in a safe spot away and out of the reach of younger children.
Make Time To Make The Doughnuts
Sure, you could swing by your local Dunkin Donuts, but for more meaning, get your kids involved by making your own sufganiyot. These are traditional jelly doughnuts that are eaten in Israel (and around the world) for Hanukkah. Of course, you can fill them with custard, but jelly tends to be more traditional — and delicious.
Fry Up Some Latkes
There’s nothing like eaten latkes on Hanukkah. You can use a mix to make the potato mixture, or follow a simple latke recipe like this one from thekitchn.com. But if you want a traditional-tasting latke, you should opt to fry them in chicken schmaltz (which is rendered chicken fat). And if you’re pondering which potatoes to use, Russets work best.
If the idea of Hanukkah makes you so happy that you want to burst into song, there are plenty of ditties to choose from. “You can sing traditional songs like Maoz Tzur, kitchy songs like Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, or choose whatever you like,” advises Rabbi Mason. You can even sing while you’re cooking to make for an even more magical evening.
Create Some Candles
If you thought that you had to purchase your menorah candles, think again. For a fun craft, you can create your own Chanukah candles, advises Monique Soltani, an award-winning broadcast journalist, TV host, and wine pro. “Making candles for the menorah is really a fun way to get them involved!” says Soltani. “It’s the miracle of light so any activities that involve light are fun.”
Tell The Story of Hanukkah
It’s one thing to read about the story on Hanukkah. It’s entirely another to get the entire family on board to act out the course of events that led to the holiday. “It’s important to tell the story of Hanuakkah,” says Rabbi Mason. “Even act it out if you can.” Another idea, according to Soltani, is to host a game of Hanukkah charades. “You can act out various parts of the Hanukkah story,” says Soltani. “This will get kids of all ages involved.”
Give A Gift Each Night
Some parents will give all their kids all of their Hanukkah presents on the first (or last) night. “But to make it more fun, many families like to do a present a night for kids of all ages,” says Bette Alkazian, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “That makes the build-up of the gifts very exciting and extends the fun!”
Do Theme Nights
Since there are eight crazy nights of Hanukkah, you can always make it fun by making a theme each night. “Some families will do pajama night one night,” says Alkazian. You can even theme the gifts to match the evening’s activities, too. “When I was growing up we had ‘socks and underwear night’ which sounds like it’s not fun, but it actually was and my kids grew to look forward to getting a fresh set of socks and underwear.” Having a theme and matching the gifts, décor, and even the dessert can be whimsical and fun, but also make the holiday more meaningful, too.
Share The Love
Hanukkah isn’t a holiday that you have to spend just with your family. In fact, it’s even more symbolic if you spread the love to other families and friends as well. “Because there are eight nights of Hanukkah, it’s wonderful to create a tradition with other families whether or not they celebrate Hanukkah,” says Alkazian. “You can share the traditions or the lighting of candles and the traditional foods like latkes and donuts.” And being with friends and family is the best way of all to begin creating these 10 Hanukkah traditions you can start tonight.