Hanukkah is a special time of year for celebrating with family and close friends. Why not host a celebration in your home this year and pull out all the stops? There are certain foods and traditions that we associate with Hanukkah that people expect, but you can mix it up a bit and create a celebration all your own.
Step 1: First, the food
As with any gathering, the food is front and center. Traditional Hanukkah foods are fried — think latkes and doughnuts — to celebrate the miracle of how only one day's worth of oil burned for eight days in the newly liberated temple of Jerusalem. Latkes (potato pancakes) are usually served with sour cream or applesauce, but for a modern twist, try something spicy. Latkes are even getting a modern makeover, with creative chefs making them out of sweet potatoes, leeks, cheese or even cauliflower. Bimuelos are a delicious fried treat your guests will love. They are a traditional treat for the Sephardic Jews who come from Turkey, Greece and Spain. These are yeast breads made with honey syrup and are at their tastiest when enjoyed fresh from the oven.
Serving fried foods for a party can be tricky, since anything fried tends to get soggy when it sits too long. Choose a few fried options that you can easily cook after people have arrived; that way the food will stay crispy. Dairy foods are popular during Hanukkah celebrations, so offer a cheese tray as your guests arrive, maybe with a glass of kosher wine. This buys you time to prepare the fried foods and gives your guests a chance to mingle.
Step 2: Hanukkah decor
Unlike the Christmas holiday, with trees and Santa Claus, there really isn’t much traditional decor for Hanukkah. The colors of blue and white are always associated with Hanukkah, as is a menorah for the nightly lighting ceremony. Decorate your home with plenty of blue, white and silver accents on the tables. Dreidels can be used as a centerpiece decoration on tables. Collect them in various sizes and colors and scatter them around to be used in games and as decorative accents.
Probably the most important symbol of the holiday is the menorah. From the traditional to the whimsical, menorahs are available in many different styles. For a holiday celebration, you can use a menorah as a table centerpiece or place them around the room for added ambience. The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing Hanukkah decor is to keep it simple. The blue and white color scheme and traditional items will tie the theme together nicely.
Step 3: Tradition
During the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, the lighting of the menorah takes place at sundown. If you are hosting a gathering at your home, make sure to include the lighting of the menorah as part of the gathering. Ask someone special to initiate the lighting of the shamash (the ninth candle used to light the other candles), such as a respected elder or honored guest. Gather your guests and make them all a part of this traditional recognition of Hanukkah.
While keeping with tradition, guests may enjoy singing songs associated with Hanukkah. Print copies of lyrics ahead of time, so everyone can be involved. You might also want to include dreidel games for the kids and perhaps even the adults.
Step 4: Make it your own
While Hanukkah celebrations are steeped in tradition, there are many ways in which you can make your celebration your own. From the foods you serve to the decor, make your Hanukkah gathering uniquely yours and enjoy this part of your holiday celebration.
More about Hanukkah
Your holiday guide to Hanukkah
A hip and modern Hanukkah menu
8 Hanukkah facts for children