Eight Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Hanukkah

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that begins at sundown on the 24th of Kislev, a date on the Hebrew Calendar which typically falls sometime in November or December. On this date in 164 BCE, after a clan of Jewish fighters known as the Maccabees led a successful revolt against Seleucid-Greek occupation, the Jerusalem Temple was reclaimed and rededicated. The Temple had been desecrated by occupying forces, and mostly all items of value had been looted or destroyed. But they were able to find one container of oil to light the menorah for one night. Miraculously, the oil burned for 8 days and nights. Because of this, Hanukkah is celebrated for 8 nights, and each night an additional candle is lit on the menorah.

Celebrate Light

When we light the candles on the Hanukkah menorah, we say a special blessing and are invited to become fully immersive in that moment. Hanukkah is about miracles, hope, and illumination.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b-mitzvotav, v-tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.

Blessed are you, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, who makes us holy through Your commandments, and commands us to light the Hanukkah lights.

My daughter and I each have our own menorahs. It is customary to light them by windows and they can be seen from the outside.

Celebrate Miracles

Playing dreidel, a four-sided spinning top with the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimel, Hei, and Shin is an acronym for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” or “A Great Miracle Happened There.”

We have acquired many dreidels over the years, and when I bring them out in preparation for the holiday, my daughter enjoys “practicing for the big games” on the kitchen table or floor.

To play dreidel, each player begins with an equal number of game pieces (usually 10–15) of either chocolate coins, candies (we love Skittles and chocolate chips!), or pennies.

  • To start the game, every participant puts one game piece into the center “pot”. Our pot is a wooden bowl made from an olive tree, to commemorate the oil in the Temple.
  • Each player takes turns spinning the dreidel. Depending on which side is facing up when it stops spinning, the player whose turn it is gives or takes game pieces from the pot:
    • If נ‎ (nun) is facing up, the player does nothing.
    • If ג‎ (gimel) is facing up, the player gets everything in the pot.
    • If ה‎ (hei) is facing up, the player gets half of the pieces in the pot.
    • If ש‎ (shin) is facing up, the player adds one of their game pieces to the pot
    • If the player is out of pieces, they are either “out” or may ask another player for a “loan”.

Celebrate Oil

To celebrate the miracle of the oil, it is a tradition to prepare and eat lots of fried food. Many families enjoy making their own jelly-filled donuts called sufganiyot, as well as latkes which are fried potato pancakes.

Jamie Geller’s “Sufganiyot in a Bag” is a fun and kid friendly recipe that is my go-to every year!

Latke Recipe

My daughter helps me combine the ingredients in a mixing bowl, and then she sits on a counter on the other side of the kitchen while I fry the latkes. We typically chat and sing songs, which keeps her busy and away from the hot oil.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups shredded potatoes, drained and squeezed of liquid
  • ½ medium onion, grated
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup finely crushed cracker crumbs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • Vegetable oil (enough to fill frying pan ¼ inch)

Combine all ingredients. Heat oil in frying pan over medium heat for several minutes. Add latke mixture into pan in ¼ cup increments with 1-2 inches in between. Tap and flatten lightly. Turn after bottoms turn med brown, approx 3-5 minutes each side. Remove and rest over plate covered in paper towels. Serve with Sour Cream Dollop or Fast Fried Apples

Sour Cream Dollop 

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp horseradish
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
  • Pinch of salt
  • Garnish of fresh cracked pepper on top

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate until needed.

Fast Fried Apple (sauce)

  • 2-4 apples, peeled, cored, diced
  • 2-4 tbsp salted butter
  • ¼-½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar

Melt butter in a small skillet or small saucepan over medium heat. Add apples, cinnamon, sugar, lemon juice, and stir. Bring to a gentle bubbling simmer. Cover. Reduce to Medium-low for 8-10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Serve warm.

Celebrate by Giving

There are many opportunities this time of year to give in a way that enhances the lives of others. Schools, Shelters, Community Centers, Nursing Homes, Animal Shelters, etc all tend to have wish lists you can view and contribute towards a cause special to you and your family.

Celebrate with Songs

“Oh Hanukkah”

Oh Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
Come light the menorah
Let’s have a party
We’ll all dance the hora
Gather ’round the table
We’ll give you a treat
Sivivon to play with and latkes to eat
And while we are playing
The candles are burning low
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
to remind us of days long ago
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
to remind us of days long ago.

“Maoz Tzur”

Maoz tzur yeshua-si
Lecha na-eh li-sha-beyach
Tikone bais ti-fee-lasi
Vi-sham todah ni-za-beyach.

Li-ase ta-chin mat-beyach
Mee-tzar ham-na-beyach
Az eg-more vi-sheer meez-mor
Chanukas ha-meez-beyach
Az eg-more vi-sheer meez-mor
Chanukas ha-meez-beyach.

“I Have A Little Dreidel”

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
Then dreidel I shall play!

Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
Then dreidel I shall play!

“Sivivon, Sov, Sov, Sov”

Sivivon, sov, sov, sov
Chanukah, hu chag tov
Chanukah, hu chag tov Sivivon, sov, sov, sov!

Chag simcha hu la-am
Nes gadol haya sham
Nes gadol haya sham
Chag simcha hu la-am.

“Ocho Kandelikas” (“Eight Little Candles” in Ladino)

Hanukah linda sta aki
Ocho kandelas para mi
Hanukah linda sta aki
Ocho kandelas para mi, oh
Una kandelika, dos kandelikas
Tres kandelikas, kuatro kandelikas
Sintyu kandelikas, sej kandelikas
Siete kandelikas, ocho kandelas para mi
Muchas fiestas vo fazer
Kon alegria i plazer
Muchas fiestas vo fazer
Kon alegria i plazer
Los pastelikos vo kumer
Kon almendrikas i la myel
Los pastelikos vo kumer
Kon almendrikas i la myel, oh
Una kandelika, dos kandelikas
Tres kandelikas, kuatro kandelikas
Sintyu kandelikas, sej kandelikas
Siete kandelikas, ocho kandelas para mi
Una kandelika, dos kandelikas
Tres kandelikas, kuatro kandelikas
Sintyu kandelikas, sej kandelikas
Siete kandelikas, ocho kandelas para mi

“5 Little Latkes Sizzling in a Pan”

Five little latkes sizzling in the pan (wiggle 5 fingers)
One jumped out and said catch me if you can!
And it jumped and it ran all around the kitchen floor,
When I turned around it ran right out the door!

Now there are 4 little latkes.

4 little latkes sizzling in the pan (wiggle 4 fingers)
One jumped out and said catch me if you can!
And it jumped and it ran all around the kitchen floor,
When I turned around it ran right out the door!

Now there are 3 little latkes.

3 little latkes sizzling in the pan (wiggle 3 fingers)
One jumped out and said catch me if you can!
And it jumped and it ran all around the kitchen floor,
When I turned around it ran right out the door!

Now there are 2 little latkes.

2 little latkes sizzling in the pan (wiggle 2 fingers)
One jumped out and said catch me if you can!
And it jumped and it ran all around the kitchen floor,
When I turned around it ran right out the door!

Now there’s just 1 little latke.

1 little latke sizzling in the pan (bob 1 finger)
It jumped out and said catch me if you can!
And it jumped and it ran all around the kitchen floor,
When I turned around it ran right out the door!

…Now I have no latkes. Boo.

Celebrate Creativity

There’s so many cool Hanukkah-themed activities on Pinterest, and people are always coming up with such cool things to do. For us, it’s making menorahs out of everyday things. Like legos or paper towel rolls. But I’d have to say that my most favorite (revealing my true inner dork here) Is plating the food to look like a menorah. Seriously! Google FOOD MENORAHS. They are fabulous and mine look nothing like them! Lasagna rolls, sushi rolls, pretzel sticks with marshmallow bases. It’s a festive culinary rabbit hole and I’m totally here for it.

Celebrate with Themed Nights

Hanukkah is beautiful and simple. In a world obsessed with accumulating “stuff”, all that Hanukkah has ever required has been the beautifully lit menorah, along with the tradition of dreidel and fried food. And while gift giving is fun, it need not be every night. There are many fun ways to add fun to your eight nights of celebration. Think of some things your family enjoys and go from there. This year, I’ve planned a different theme for each night. (Shhhh!!! Don’t tell my daughter!! She loves surprises!)

  • Sock Night! Socks for Hanukkah might be the 4th unspoken treasured and time honored tradition.
  • Movie Night: cozied up with popcorn (popped in oil!)
  • Mitzvah (Blessing) Night: Giving to a cause close to our hearts.
  • Reading Night: Cozied up (again! I love a good snuggle!) with new books to read through the winter and to each other.
  • Board Game Night: After we finish jelly donuts, of course.
  • Puzzle Night: I was never really into puzzles, but my daughter is AMAZING at the, and it’s kinda growing on me.
  • Spa Night: Hey, gonna need a little detox from all this oil…
  • Arts and Crafts Night: Quality time making quality goods! ha!

Celebrate with Your Community

Menorah Lightings in Indy

Join the Jewish Community to light the Menorah

First Night
5 pm on November 28: Indiana Jewish Discovery Center and Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis

Second Night
5 pm on November 29: Jewish Community Center and Hooverwood Living

Third Night
5 pm on November 30: Hasten Hebrew Academy of Indianapolis

Fourth Night
5 pm on December 1: Etz Chaim Sephardic Congregation

Fifth Night
5 pm on December 2: Chabad Lubavitch of Indiana and Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis

Sixth Night
4:30 pm on December 3: Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation and Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council

Seventh Night
7 pm on December 4: Congregation Shaarey Tefilla and Congregation Beth Shalom

Eighth Night
5 pm on December 5: Congregation Beth-El Zedeck

Carmel Jewish Community Chanukah Menorah

Join the Carmel Jewish community as we ignite the Chanukah Menorah, with music and food in this holiday’s spirit!

6-6:45 pm on December 1: Carmel Christkindlmarkt

Chanukah Takeover of Winterlights

Join Newfields and the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis for the Chanukah takeover of Winterlights.

5 pm on December 5: Newfields (Indianapolis Museum of Art)

  • See the windows of the Lilly House lit up with Menorahs and Stars of David and be dazzled by the Landscape of Light as it dances on the home’s front lawn.
  • The 1.5 million lights of Winterlights will be enhanced with special food and beverage elements. Sample a one-of-a-kind Holiday tasting experience including latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts).
  • Advanced tickets required.

Hanukkah is a historical holiday that reminds us to never give up, and to shine your light regardless of what you do or don’t have.

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