Hanukkah 2012: 4 Traditional Ways to Celebrate the Festival of Lights

ByElyssa Byck

Happy Hanukkah. Saturday night we began the eight-day merriment otherwise known as the Festival of Lights. For those who are unaware, this is a Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In true Jew fashion, we focus our holiday around a modicum of despair and celebrate our reprisal. We commemorate the miracle of a one-day supply of oil inexplicably lasting eight days. 

Given that we cannot even decide on a universal spelling of the holiday, you can imagine that there are countless ways in which people choose to celebrate. If you find yourself needing some inspiration, here are a few ways to help you incorporate the miracle of Hanukkah into your life this year.

1. Light Your Menorah

It is customary to light your Menorah each night, saying blessings before or after the candles are lit depending on your personal tradition. On the first night the candle on the right side of the Menorah is lit, on the subsequent night a second candle is placed to the left of the first, and so on, proceeding for eight nights. Since the Hanukkah candlelight is sacred, and we cannot make ordinary use of it, take time to capture the spirit of Hanukkah and use candles to light up your home to create a warm ambiance. It is, after all, the Festival of Lights.

2. Play Games

A popular Hanukkah game is spinning the dreidel, which is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters written on each side. It is a betting game to see which Hebrew letter the dreidel will land on when it stops spinning. You usually play for gelt, chocolate wrapped in gold tin foil, but can play for anything, really. Hanukkah is a great excuse for an uninterrupted family game night, so use this tradition and roll with it.  


3. Eat Fried Food

We recognize the significance of oil during Hanukkah, so we should manifest that significance and indulge in all that is greasy. Traditionally, fried foods like "sufganiyot" (jelly-filled doughnuts) and "latkes" (potato pancakes) are cooked in oil to remind us of the miracle of the holiday; but if you feel a chicken nugget or french fry will make you feel holy, no one is judging.


4. Dedicate Yourself

The name Hanukkah derives from a Hebrew verb meaning "to dedicate." Everyone should make the most of the meaning behind this holiday and dedicate him or herself to something bigger. Dedicate your time to a friend who needs you, send a thank you to someone who is deserving, let someone know they are appreciated, or choose a charity to be a part of. Many families exchange gifts each night, so donate gifts to those who don’t have that luxury. Find your inner chutzpah and do something.

Whether or not you celebrate Hanukkah, the themes of family and tradition resonate. So if you are marveling over an ancient story about the preservation of oil, or just your cell phone battery lasting eight days, remember, if you look for small miracles you’ll find them everywhere.