My childhood Hanukkahs have been a blur of fried jelly donuts and latkes, but there is much more to the holiday that just food (though food does play a large part, as with most Jewish holidays). As an elementary school student, comic strips and short films featuring the brave Maccabees taught me the history of Hanukkah. I learned about the victory of the outnumbered Maccabees and the miracle of the oil over Greek invaders in cartoon form.
One of the cornerstones of Hanukkah’s in my house is of course the lighting of the nine-branched chanukiah. Every year, we gather around the window as the glow of the candles suffuse the room in the warm holiday spirit. After reciting the blessings, I sing along to the Hanukkah classics with my family and friends. “Maoz Tzur”, “Sevivon sov sov sov” and “Al Hanisim” are just a few.
After lighting the candles comes a round of the dreidel game. All you need to play are a handful of dreidels (spinning tops) and gelt (chocolate coins) for each player. The Hebrew letters on each side of the dreidel represent the words: “A great miracle happened there,”
(נס גדול היה שם) referring to the miracle of the oil lasting eight days.
To start the game, put one chocolate coin in the center of the players. Have the first player spin the dreidel. Once the dreidel stops spinning, check the letter written on the side facing up. The rules are as follows:
Nun– “nothing”– the player does not lose or gain any coins.
Gimel– “all”– the player takes everything in the center
Hey– “half”– the player takes half of the center pile
Shin– “put in” – the player places one coin in the center.
Usually we end the game when one player has all of the coins, though, sometimes the game ends when all of the chocolate has been eaten. Alongside the piles of gelt, plates of latkes can often be found. Whether they are sweet potato or original, the potato pancakes always taste better paired with applesauce or sour cream.
When my sister and I were younger, our parents would sit beside us and read Hanukkah stories, enhancing the experience with theatrical voices. We would pass around the sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), enjoy each other’s company, and take in the magical Hanukkah stories.
Even though I have outgrown the Hanukkah stories and cartoon clips of my younger years, the holiday still holds a special place in my heart, as it is a time of traditions, family, and, of course, lots of food.