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.
Hanukkah Food: A Global Common Ground
There’s a tasty selection of foods eaten by families celebrating Hanukkah in dozens of different countries.
Latkes (potato pancakes) are one of the most popular Hanukkah foods worldwide. The recipe is generally the same, but some countries put a different twist on it. In India, instead of latkes, people eat a food called burfi. Instead of potatoes, people make it with sugar and milk.
Sufganiyot (fried jelly donuts) cross the cultural barrier too and has many variations. In Morocco, many prefer a specialized citrus-like version of Sufganiyot (called Sfenj).
While certain food traditions vary in subtle ways from country to country, the majority of Hanukkah foods and dishes are fried in oil. This commemorates the historic miracle of the oil that burned for eight days after the Maccabean revolt.
Playing the Dreidel – Hanukkah Tradition with a Spin
Another Hanukkah tradition families worldwide enjoy is the dreidel game. The dreidel game is a gambling game played by any number of people. Children of all ages play dreidel, and they use 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 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 during a time when it wasn’t permitted. People all over the world play the dreidel game, and while there may be some variation occasionally, the rules generally stay the same.
Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah
Perhaps one of the most iconic celebrations 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.
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.
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!
Check out our other article on Hanukkah to learn more about its origins, and be sure to let us know how you and your family will be celebrating Hanukkah this year on your favorite family app!