Friday, December 1, 2017

Hanukkah a Mini Guide to the Jewish Holiday

Jewish Winter Holiday tips, ideas, food, gifts

Hanukkah is a joyous, festive Jewish holiday. This year as you wish a Happy Hanukkah to others, you'll have read this blog and understand a few of the customs and symbols associated with the holiday better. 

Post updated 12/05/2023

Hanukkah spans eight nights and eight days and begins this year on the night of  Thursday December 7th and ends the night of Friday December 15, 2023. 

It commemorates the Israelites/Maccabees' victories over the Greco-Syrians in regaining the ancient Temple in Jerusalem (approx. 164 BCE-142 BCE). This enabled Jews to practice our religion freely. 

Legend goes that when the ancient Jerusalem Temple was reclaimed, there was only enough oil to burn in the eternal light for one night. A miracle occurred, and the oil burned for eight days and eight nights. The custom of lighting eight candles (one a night) on the menorah is a celebration and tribute to the miracle of light and religious freedom. Perhaps that's why this holiday came to be called The Festival of Lights. 

What are traditional Hanukkah colors? Accessories, from table linens to toys and serving dishes are customarily blue and white or blue and silver colors. The most obvious explanation for this color scheme is the Israeli flag, designed by the Zionist movement in 1891 and officially adopted in 1948, is blue and white.

Hanukkah is observed differently around the world. In America, a child may receive presents, attend a Hanukkah Party, sing songs, and play a game with a dreidel ( a spinning top). In Sephardi/Spanish Jewish homes, you might see the menorah, hanging suspended at the doorpost of each house.

Jewish Winter Holiday Tips Ideas Recipes Gifts

Eating is a big part of any Jewish holiday. One traditional food served in the U.S. is a fried potato pancake called a latke (a symbol of the oil). 

When I can entertain during this holiday at my house, I prepare Vegan Potato Latkes and offer the recipe to you. You don't have to be Jewish to like them, so give it a try.

Potato Latkes (pancakes) Vegan and Gluten Free (Makes approx. 15 pancakes)

Potato Latkes
Potato Latkes and Berry Apple Sauce with Beans, Squash, and Brussels Sprouts


4 large all-purpose potatoes, peeled

1 medium yellow onion chopped fine
1 flaxseed egg: mix 1 Tablespoon whole ground flaxseed meal with 3 Tablespoons of water and let sit for at least 20 minutes before using
2 Tablespoons gluten free Matzo Meal or gluten free old fashioned ground oats
a pinch of salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil or olive oil spray

What to Do:

1. Mix up ground flaxseed meal as described above.

2. Grate potatoes with the grating blade of a food processor.

Note: If the potato mixture is left too long in the air, it will turn an unattractive gray color. Work quickly or add 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice to the mix, before you portion it out. I use organic ingredients whenever available in order to eat GMO free.

 3. Place the grated potato in a colander and press down in order to remove as much liquid as possible.

4. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together, except for the oil.

5. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet, until a drop of water sizzles when dropped into the oil. Drop about two tablespoons of the mixture into the pan for each pancake. I use a large serving spoon to make latkes look uniform in size. Flatten pancakes with the back of the spoon so they cook evenly and are about 2-3 inches in diameter.

6. Fry pancakes at medium heat four or five minutes. Turn carefully and cook on the other side for about the same amount of time.

7. After each pancake is cooked, drain on a paper towel.

8. Top with apple sauce, fruit compote, cinnamon, or other sweet spice.


Another custom of the holiday is to give small gifts such as golden or silver metallic paper covered chocolate coins (gelt) to each child after the blessing for the candle is chanted and the Hanukkah candle is lit each night. That means children are getting at least eight presents in all.

Susan from Organized 31 was kind enough to give me permission to use her photo and let me supply a link to her post, which illustrates blue and silver gift bags to hold these small treasures. The crochet directions come from Sara Rivka from Creative Jewish Mom. What a crafty idea and follow through.

A handmade Hanukkah gift is a special way to celebrate. #hanukkah
source, Susan at Organized 31

What's the correct spelling for Hanukkah? Hanukkah is not easily transliterated into English, and accounts for why there are so many ways to spell it. Hanukkah and Chanukah are the two versions that are most widely used and accepted. 

When we gaze at or meditate about light from the Hanukkah candles, it may help us look inside ourselves more deeply. Recently, I've been reflecting on a quotation from Rabbi Naomi Levy, author of Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul.

"We are carrying God's light within us. It burns like a pilot light, always available to help us and guide us. It's our responsibility to honor and tend that light, to keep sharing it and spreading it." 

That's an important reason why I blog.

How do you shine your light in the world? Do you feel by sharing your gifts, you make the world a better place to be? 

Please comment. You're welcome to share your favorite holiday practice or tradition with my readers and me. Let the light of brotherhood and sisterhood shine.

Please put no links in your comment, as it won't be published.

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  1. Thank you for the detailed information!

    1. Thanks for visiting and the comment. Wishing you a happy holiday and peaceful, colorful, and healthy New Year.

  2. Thank you for sharing my handmade Hanukkah bag, Nancy. I appreciate your mini guide and all the information you included. Happy Hanukkah.

    1. Thanks so mcuh Susan. I love the helpful tips you offer to your readers, me included. Be well and enjoy!

    2. Ups typo. I meant Thanks so much, so I'll say it again.

  3. My great grandmother was Jewish so I love reading about my heritage

    1. Thanks Amber for visiting and commenting. Wishing you a Wonderful Holiday Season and Blessed New Year. I look forward to reading your blog posts; they are so much fun and provide a lot of helpful information.

  4. That was quite an interesting read Nancy. I find it fascinating to learn about the way other folks celebrate

    1. Thanks Mary and I agree. I find it fascinating to learn about the way other folks celebrate. Did you write a post about your way yet? Please let me know. Wishing You Warm Holiday Greetings and Health in the New Year.

  5. Thanks for sharing your vegan latke recipe. I'm never quite sure how to make them vegan. Looks delicious .Happy Hanukkah

    1. Thanks Judee. They came out real good, and as soon as I have and extra moment, I'll post the picture. Wishing you a Happy Hanukkah and Joyous New Year.

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  13. I'm so glad you wrote this post. I've always enjoyed Chanukah with my Jewish friends. Your post is one of my features on Wed., 12/18, Features of the Happy Holiday Link Party. I'd love for you to drop by!

    1. Thanks Carol for featuring my post and hosting the Holiday link party. Wishing you a beautiful holiday season and much joy, health, and peace in the New Year.Hugs, Nan

  14. Thank you for sharing this great information and the latke recipe. I'm excited to try it out with my family. I love the quote you shared about having God's light in us. Thanks Nancy!

    1. Thanks so much for your visit and kind comment Marielle. Please let me know how it goes, when you make the Latke recipe. Happy Holidays and a sparkling New Year.

  15. We sure enjoyed featuring your post this week and thanks so much for sharing it with us! Hope to see you again real soon.
    Miz Helen

    1. Thanks again Miz Helen. You better believe I'm at your party. Have a festive holiday and many wishes for health, happiness, and peace in the New Year.

  16. Thank you for sharing this wonderful information. Very informative.
    Visiting today from Hearth & Soul #6&7

    1. Thanks Paula for the visit and comment. So glad I had a chance to read your blog at the blog party. Please visit again and be well.

  17. Thank you for sharing this post, Nancy. I really enjoyed reading it and learning more about the traditions and recipes of Hanukkah. I'm featuring your post at the Christmas edition of Hearth and Soul which goes live on Sunday.
    I actually wanted to call it The Holiday Edition of The Hearth and Soul Link Party to be more inclusive, but the terminology "Holiday Season" does not resonate in every country. (Of course it does for me because I was born in Canada!) However, over here in the UK and Europe, the term 'holiday season' would be used to refer to when people go away from home on holiday, not this most wonderful time of the year!
    I vividly remember our minister preaching one year on the topic "Without Hanukkah there would be no Christmas" as of course, had the Jewish faith not survived, Jesus would not have been born into it! That has always stuck with me. Thank you again for being a part of Hearth and Soul.

  18. Thanks so much April for the visit, comment, and honor of having this post featured at the Christmas edition of Hearth and Soul which goes live on Sunday. I'm delighted and excited. Yes, holidays are celebrated in many different ways and times. Yahoo for diversity!

  19. I really appreciate your detailed explanation of Hanukkah as some of my family are Jewish. I enjoyed reading about this beautiful Jewish celebration. Thanks for sharing Nan and Happy Hanukkah!

    1. Thanks Beth for the visit and comment. Glad my post interested you. Have a enjoyable holiday and many blessings in the New Year.