08 March 2021 (updated)

Hanukkah Traditions and Customs Around the World

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday filled with delicious foods and family traditions. Read on to learn about common Hanukkah traditions and customs around the world.

Millions of Jewish families in Israel and worldwide will celebrate this holiday from December 10 to December 18 in 2020. You can learn more about the origins of this Jewish holiday and Hanukkah's history in our other article but read on to learn more about some of the quintessential Hanukkah customs.

Hanukkah Food Worldwide

Most of the great world holidays center around food and family, and Hanukkah is no exception. While Jewish people in different countries might put their own twist on the foods, here are a few of the most iconic foods.

Latkes What's not to love about these crispy potato pancakes? They're cooked in just the right amount of oil to commemorate the oil lamps the Hebrew people lit during the first Hanukkah celebration. While most Jews use potatoes for this treat, in India, people eat food called burfi instead of latkes. This is a delicious version of fudge, usually made with nuts, sugar, and milk. 

Sufganiyot (fried jelly donuts) also have different international variations. In Morocco, many prefer a specialized citrus-like version of Sufganiyot (called Sfenj). Instead of the familiar jelly-filled doughnut, these deep-fried delicacies are more like fritters or beignets. 

Regardless of the food traditions or variations, most Hanukkah foods and dishes are fried in oil. This commemorates the historic miracle of the oil that burned for eight days after the Hebrew people's Maccabean revolt and rededication of the temple.

Playing the Dreidel – Hanukkah Tradition With a Spin

Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

Another Hanukkah tradition Jewish families worldwide enjoy is the dreidel game. Kids and adults enjoy this gambling game, which usually involves chocolate coins (Gelt) and other sweets as the game chips.

The rules are simple: Each player begins with an equal amount of game chips. Starting with one player and continuing in clockwise order, each player takes a turn spinning the dreidel. Someone spins the dreidel, and whichever letters the dreidel lands on symbolizes how much they take from the pot. The four Hebrew letters are as follows:

  • Shin (put in) - Player puts one game chip into the center pot.
  • Hey (half) - Player takes half of the center pot.
  • Gimel (everything) - Player takes all of the center pot. That's a big win!
  • Nun (nothing) - Player neither takes nor gives anything.

Once you're out of game chips, you are no longer in the game! Bust! However, if you end up with all of the game chips, you're the winner! According to legend, the dreidel was created for children to study the Torah when it wasn't permitted. People worldwide play the dreidel game, and while there may be some variation occasionally, the rules generally stay the same.

Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah

Perhaps the most iconic celebration of Hanukkah is lighting the Chanukiah or Hanukkah Menorah. This special type of Menorah is an eight-branched candelabrum to signify each of the eight days that the oil burned inside the Second Temple after the famous Maccabean revolt. As the legend goes, there was only enough oil to keep the Menorah lit for one day, but it stayed lit for eight days. Today, as each of the eight days of Hanukkah passes by, a family member lights a new candle each day to commemorate the freedom and miracle of the past. 

Start lighting the Hanukkah Menorah with the right-most candle on the first night. The second night, start with the candle second from the right and then light the first candle. The pattern continues every day until all eight candles are lit. This order signifies the miracle of the lasting oil and how it grew more powerful as each day passed.

Light a new candle for each night of Hanukkah.

Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah is simple. You light the right-most candle on the first night. The second night, start with the candle second from the right and then light the first candle. The pattern continues every day until all eight candles are lit. This order signifies the miracle of the lasting oil and how it grew more powerful as each day passed.

Celebrate Hanukkah!

After you've fried the latkes, lit the menorah, and spun the dreidel, you're well on your way to celebrating Hanukkah just the same as Jewish families do all over the world. Hanukkah celebrates freedom from oppression-- a timeless idea that everyone can get behind. Gather the family, hand out gifts, and enjoy these Hanukkah traditions and customs around the world right in your own home!

And be sure to let us know how you and your family will be celebrating Hanukkah this year on your favorite family app!



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