Chanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.
Chanukkah is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Many non-Jews (and even many assimilated Jews!) think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. It is bitterly ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and the suppression of Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on our calendar.
Chanukkah is a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days and nights. It starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which coincides with late November-late December on the secular and solar-based calendar.
In Hebrew, the word “Chanukkah” means “dedication.” The name reminds us that this holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E.
How to celebrate: Chanukkah Traditions
Every community has its unique Chanukkah traditions, but there are some traditions that are almost universally practiced. They are: lighting the Chanukkiyah, spinning the dreidel and eating fried foods.
•Lighting the Chanukkiyah: Every year it is customary to commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah oil by lighting candles on a hanukkiyah. The hanukkiyah is lit every night for eight nights.
•Spinning the dreidel: A popular Chanukkah game is spinning the dreidel, which is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters written on each side.
•Eating fried foods:
Because Chanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot during the holiday.
Gift-giving( for those who still want to carry on)
Instead of shopping for Chanukkah gifts this year, it great to make them yourself, and even better, involving your loved ones.
1. Hand-Made Chanukkah Candles
The most important Chanukkah ritual is the candle lighting. The candles are lit a special holder called a “menorah,” and each night, one more candle is added. The middle candle, called the “shamash,” is used to light each of the other candles and it is lit every time. This year, light up your celebration by making your own wholesome beeswax candles. Make a set for yourself (you’ll need a total of 44) and make more to give as gifts.
Rolled Beeswax Candle-Making Instructions:
· Using a utility knife and ruler, slice wax sheets into 2-by-4 1/2-inch rectangles.
· Cut wicking into 5 1/2-inch lengths.
· Warm wax with a blow dryer until just pliable.
· Lay wick along edge of wax with 3/4 inch of wick hanging beyond wax.
· Roll wax around wick, pressing seam with your finger to seal.
2. Home-Made Bath Salts
Who doesn’t get exhausted during the holidays? That’s why most women love to give gifts that are meant to pamper. Making your own soaps and salts can also be a fun and therapeutic activity to share with friends and family. An idea is packaging the salts in small glass jars or tin containers found at your local craft or container store that you can cover with beautiful Japanese paper. You can also try wrapping them in clear cellophane bags tied with ribbon, along with a Hanukkah-themed sticker. Or make your own decorative labels, and give the gifts fun names like “Hanukkah Soak” with personalized instructions that include lighting the candles and taking a few minutes to reflect on what’s special about the holiday.
When planning what to give this Hanukkah, consider the guiding principles about gift giving: make it heartfelt and make it something that represents how you want them to feel. By giving something meant to pamper you’re saying “I want you to feel relaxed and surrounded by love on this special season.”
Aromatherapy Bath Salt Recipe:
You’ll need: Epsom salt(available at drugstores), sea salt (optional, available at health food stores), sweet almond oil (available at health food stores), essential oils such as lavender, rosewood, geranium, peppermint, or lemon (available at health food stores). The mix contains 3 parts Epsom salts, 1 part coarse sea salt.
Stir the salts together in a large bowl, then pour enough sweet almond oil over the salts to make them clump together a bit. For scent use the essential oils. Make sure you use enough oil to scent the entire mixture, stir it well, put it into containers immediately (the scent will evaporate if salts are left open to the air), and enjoy!
3. Home-Cooked Jam
Jelly-filled doughnuts sprinkled in sugar, called sufganiyot, are a favourite traditional Hanukkah treat. This holiday season, try making the jam from scratch. It’s simple to do and the kids will love to take part in it with you. Your sufganiyot will taste better and you can make extra for friends and family as a symbolic and heart-felt gift.
Recipe for Jam:
4 cups of halved strawberries, raspberries or apricots
1 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.
· Combine the fruit and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.
· Reduce heat to medium, and simmer one hour or until thick, stirring occasionally.
· Remove from heat, and stir in lemon juice.
· Cool to room temperature.
Makes 2 cups
Recipe for Sufganiyot:
1 tablespoon dry yeast
4 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm milk or warm water
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter or margarine, softened
Your homemade jam
Sugar for sprinkling
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
· Mix together the yeast, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the milk. Let sit to make sure it bubbles. Sift the flour and mix it with the remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, egg yolks, and the yeast mixture.
· Knead the dough until it forms a ball. Add the butter or margarine. Knead some more, until the butter is well absorbed.
· Cover with a towel and let rise overnight in the refrigerator. Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch.
· Cut out the dough into 24 rounds with a juice glass, or any object about 2 inches in diameter. Take 1/2 teaspoon of your home-made jam and place in centre of 12 rounds. Top with the other 12.
· Press down at edges, sealing with egg whites. Crimping with the thumb and second finger is best.
· Let rise for about 30 minutes.
· Heat 2 inches of oil to about 375 degrees. (Time for the kids to leave the kitchen.)
· Drop the doughnuts into the hot oil, about five at a time. Turn to brown on both sides.
· Drain on paper towels.
· Roll the doughnuts in sugar. (The kids can come back for this last step.)
Makes about 12 doughnuts.
Packaging the Jam:
Small glass jars with metal lids that are available at most hardware and kitchen stores (or even your own recycled variety) make the ideal containers for your home-made preserves. It’s also a good idea to sterilize the glass in boiling water to ensure freshness for longer periods of time. To give your gift a special touch, it will be good adorning the jars by cutting out a circular piece of craft or decorative wrapping paper or fabric approximately one inch larger than the size of the lid. Then wrap it over the top of the lid with a piece of ribbon or red string, which symbolizes good luck in Judaism. Kids would also enjoy making their own labels using watercolor or even creating them on the computer.
4. Hanukkah Latkes
Latkes, or potato pancakes are by far the most traditional and sinfully delicious Hanukkah food. Instead of baking cookies this holiday season, host a potato latke workshop and experiment with a few variations of the classic dish with your friends and family. Instead of just using plain potatoes, try a mix of sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, or zucchini. Kids will love the tasty treat but make sure they stay out of the kitchen once the real cooking begins as the recipe always calls for frying. Serve with applesauce or sour cream and enjoy!
1 lb Yukon or just plain gold potatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
· Peel potatoes and coarsely grate by hand, transferring to a large bowl of cold water as grated.
· Soak potatoes one to two minutes after last batch is added to water, then drain well in a colander.
· Spread grated potatoes and onion on a kitchen towel and roll up jelly-roll style. Twist towel tightly to wring out as much liquid as possible. Transfer potato mixture to a bowl and stir in egg and salt.
vHeat 1/4 cup oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.
· Working in batches of four latkes, spoon 2 tablespoons potato mixture per latke into skillet, spreading into 3-inch rounds with a fork.
· Reduce heat to moderate and cook until undersides are browned, about five minutes. Turn latkes over and cook until about five minutes more.
· Transfer to paper towels to drain and season with salt. Add more oil to skillet as needed. Keep latkes warm on a wire rack set in a shallow baking pan in oven.
Makes 12 to 16 latkes
5. Hand-Made Cards & Stationary
Very few gifts can say you care more than a hand-made card. You can make greeting cards as simple or ornate as you like and they make an amusing activity for children. When it comes to choosing papers for your card your options are endless. You can use natural fibers with unusual textures or even blank coloured paper you buy by the pound.
At craft stores you’ll find an endless supply of special paints, markers, and coloured pencils and a plethora of personalized cut-outs and add-ons, from velvet stick-on hearts to Hanukkah-themed stickers.
You can also decorate your cards with a holiday stamp you make yourself using a potato carved by a cookie cutter. A few decorative stamps on a plain piece of paper also makes the perfect stationary gift which you can present by tying up in traditional blue and white ribbon. As an alternative to crafts, it’s great reproducing a favourite photo using a computer program to make your own cards.
6. Chanukkah Songbook
One of the most memorable aspects of celebrating Hanukkah are the dozens of traditional songs in Hebrew and English little that children learn and sing along with their families when lighting the menorah during the eight days of the holiday. Now that you know how to create your own Hanukkah stationary, you can get the kids involved in making their very own holiday songbooks and exchanging them with friends. You can look online for the words of songs such as “Hanukkah O Hanukkah,” “I Have a Little Dreidel” and “Hanerot Halalu” and either write them out in your most artistic penmanship or print them on the computer. To bind the collection of songs, use a hole-punch and tie the pages together with pieces of ribbon or thin rope. You now have a gift that’s not only useful but sentimental as well.
7. Jewelry Workshop
Hosting a Hanukkah party? A fun project and gift-giving idea that everyone will love is crafting handmade beaded necklaces and bracelets and then exchanging them with others. Go to your local specialty bead store to find a wide array of beautiful craft beads and stones in any colour and shape imaginable. Don’t forget to include a variety of strings and wire for your beading workshop. Pick up some memory wire, which is shaped in a spiral, and you can also make colourful beaded napkin rings for your Hanukkah dining table and gifts as well. When it comes to making presents for the holiday. “Anything that brings the family together and centers around being creative at home and feeling safe and warm and happy.”
8. Hanukkah Gelt Bags
Every year at Hanukkah it’s tradition for children to receive candy and chocolate wrapped like gold coins or “gelt,” the Yiddish word for money. This year, try making your own bags for this special custom using colourful velvet or satin. To sew, cut your choice of fabric measuring 5 by 15 inches. Fold it in half and sew a tight zigzag up both sides. Fold the top edge over twice and finish with a hem. Tie the pouch with a piece of ribbon and there you have a beautiful and simple-to-make souvenir for the kids.
Whatever project you decide to take on this Chanukkah, try to focus on how to infuse the season with a sense of spirit, happiness and hospitality as opposed to stress.”