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8 Ways to Celebrate Hanukkah With Family

Shari Bender

In the immortal words of Adam Sandler, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah consists of “eight crazy nights.” It can get even crazier as we look for creative ways to celebrate Hanukkah with family, especially with our bigger kids.

Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights. This year, it begins at sundown on Sunday, December 18. “Chanukkah” is often the more traditional spelling of Hanukkah. The traditional story of Hanukkah features the miracle of the oil, which was only enough to last one night, but actually burned for eight nights. 

Not Jewish? Not a problem. You can celebrate Hanukkah even if you’re not Jewish. Forward this article to a Hanukkah-celebrating friend, or consider adding some Hanukkah-themed ideas into your own holiday celebrations, especially since, this year, Hanukkah and Christmas overlap.

If you’re new to Judaism, we have you covered with some tips to help you celebrate Hanukkah for the first time. By donning colorful holiday clothing, serving up traditional meals and sweet treats, and staging hilarious family activities, you’ll make Hanukkah eight nights to remember.

1. Wear Matching Holiday Clothing for a Fun Family Photo

Do not hesitate to beg or bribe your family to pose. No time to order coordinating dreidel shirts? Pick matching hues and incorporate some of your favorite holiday decor. Holiday shirts are also a good way for an interfaith family to showcase their personal style while including the different winter holidays.

There's no need for a professional photographer. Enlist a neighbor and you’ve got a 10-minute easy smartphone photo shoot.  completely uninterested, never underestimate the power of a good selfie: the 10-second version of the family photo.

2. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth

Grab some foil-wrapped chocolate coins, lovingly known as Hanukkah gelt, to share with your family and friends. Your interfaith family or the neighbors may really enjoy bags of gelt, especially since it’s something that Santa never brings.

If it has been a tough year, allow yourself that extra coin. Or two.

3. One Night as “Charity Night” 

This is a long-standing tradition in some families and it can be interesting to watch the kids’ selections change throughout the years. The child that chose animal charities when he was little, may now want to select something like The Trevor Project, dedicated to helping and supporting at-risk LGBTQIA+ youth. It can give you insight into your big kid and will definitely make one night of Hanukkah extra meaningful.

It feels good to give back and gives the family a chance to reflect on gratitude and share with each other why a particular charity is meaningful to them.

4. Family Game Night 

Let everyone choose a game out of the old game closet to wrap for family fun to be played on a night of Hanukkah. You wouldn’t believe how hilarious it can be to have four adults playing Hungry Hungry Hippo.

After you're done, consider giving away any games that are no longer a fit for your family. Perhaps your collector’s edition Candy Land can head to the preschoolers down the street.

5. Handwritten Notes Make Great Gifts

Often we think about how special people are in our lives, so maybe this is the year you should immortalize your words on paper.

When you celebrate Hanukkah in your own writing, it is so much more powerful than a text message or email. You could make someone's lonely holiday season a whole lot brighter just by letting them know how much they mean to you.

6. Make Your Own Potato Latkes

If you've never had a latke, think McDonald’s hash brown, only infinitely better. Add a dollop of applesauce, sour cream, or hot sauce for extra pizazz.

It’s likely your favorite celebrity chef has their own spin on the latke. You can even throw in carrots and spinach for a healthy twist on the classic.

No matter what your religion, eating latkes is a delicious way to take part in the Hanukkah season. And be sure to freeze some to send back with your college kid for a taste of home after the holidays.

7. Stage a Donut and Dance Night

Jelly donuts are a traditional Hanukkah treat. But in an effort to counter the calories, accompany your donuts with a dance off!

Everyone in the family can pick their favorite song. Trust me, the kids will love to bust out a song with questionable lyrics — roll with it and show them those polished 80’s and 90’s moves.

8. Zoom it.

If you can't get together in person with loved ones, schedule a Zoom menorah lighting. As the glow of candles fills your screen, along with smiles and laughter, you'll feel connected in love and light even if you are far apart.

You could sing a song or two, and even play dreidel. A holiday Zoom costume contest could also be a Zoomerific way to celebrate.

No matter how you spell it, Chanukah is a time for family and celebration.

For the loved ones who are no longer with us, we cherish their memories and hold them in our hearts. Our holiday observances may be smaller this year, but the lights of Hanukkah and the sparkle of the holiday season can still shine bright with hope for the New Year.

Wishing a Happy and Healthy Hanukkah to those who celebrate and a safe and warm holiday season to all.

Dreidels for celebrating Hanukkah

Photos courtesy of the author.

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Shari earned her BA in Communication from Stanford University and freelances all things Communication and Marketing. She is a cat-loving spiritual vegan and former admissions interviewer. With two grown children, Shari is happily and sentimentally embracing her Empty Nest along with her husband of more than 30 years. Her musings delight parents in numerous publications and online platforms, including CollegiateParent and Grown & Flown.
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