Hanukkah may not come with gingerbread houses, and Lip Smacker stuffed stockings, but this holiday shouldn’t go unappreciated either. With Hanukkah right around the corner (I mean seriously, it begins the day before Thanksgiving this year), let’s talk about why Hanukkah rules! Here are the ten best things about Hanukkah and why they are important.
10. The Dreidel game!
Dreidel is essentially gambling on a smaller scale that teaches young children how to quit while they’re ahead. Dreidel is a top with four sides; when it’s your turn, you get to spin it and wait for it to land on a Hebrew letter. If it lands on “Nun,” this means you don’t collect any candy (or whatever treats or small objects you have around the house; you start with about 10-15). “Gimmel” means you get everything in the “pot”. A “Halb” will get you half the pile, and “Shin” forces you to pay up and add a piece of your Dreidel booty to the pile. This game can get very competitive, especially when Pokemon cards are at stake. Usually though, we play with gelt.
Gelt, or chocolate coins wrapped in gold tin foil, usually arrive in small fishnet pouches. I’m not sure why I loved gelt so much, since usually it tastes like hot chocolate flavored wax, but boy did I fight hard for every last morsel.
8. Hanukkah/Jewish songs
Traditionally, Jewish songs are a bit mournful compared to jovial Christmas carols, and Jewish kids never get to go around the neighborhood singing for people in the dead of night. But we did get to sing along (or at least lip-sync) to cultural songs about the Maccabean Revolt against the Greeks in 2nd century BC!
For example, this is “Hanukkah, oh Hanukkah” which is both in Yiddish AND in English.
And this is a Matisyahu video for “Miracle” which I actually just discovered now.
Latkes are totally different than potato pancakes, so restaurants that masquerade as latke-makers should get their latke facts straight. Latkes are typically made with very finely grated potatoes, onions, eggs, and flour. My aunt revolutionized our family’s ancient recipe and made them with sweet potatoes last year, which was AMAZING. One can eat latkes with sour cream or applesauce. I do both because I can’t handle decisions.
6. Matzo Ball Soup
Matzo Ball Soup is like chicken soup but even better. This soup was antibiotics for us Jewish kids with stuffy noses, so we usually associate this pot of magical liquid with days spent in bed watching cartoons, or Jewish holidays where all of the moms forced us to eat more Matzo Ball soup because we were always too skinny. To this day, I either drive all the way home to my parent’s house or force my fiancé to pick up some soup at the local deliif I’m feeling even slightly sniffly. Vitamic C has seriously got nothing on Matzo Ball soup.
5. The Hanukkah Bush
The Hanukkah Bush was basically created because of envious Jewish kids. I don’t think any bush (burning or not) played a role in the history of Hanukkah, so I’m thinking some parent one day decided to humor their children (who had to walk by the fabulously lit and bedazzled Christmas aisle at Target one too many times) by setting up a Hanukkah Bush, a.k.a a Christmas tree with blue and white lights and Star of David ornaments.
4. Lighting candles
Lighting the menorah was my favorite part about Hanukkah as a kid because I really liked fire. You have to recite a Hebrew prayer (which I also knew at some point but have long since forgotten) and you have to wait for the candles to melt by themselves. Every single year I would hope that our candles would actually last eight days like Maccabees, but sadly this never happened.
3. It lasts for 8 nights!
Something has to be said for the longevity of Hanukkah. You get to really soak it in and enjoy it, unlike Christmas, which is over pretty much before you can say “batteries not included”. I actually celebrate both so it’s a non-stop party in the month of December (in this year’s case, November too).
My parents are very straight forward people and when it came time to buy gifts for me, they would usually just take me to the mall and let me pick out a few Limited Too sparkly kitten tee-shirts. However, a lot of parents give their children one gift per day, so they end up with eight gifts total. Usually, the first six are small knick-knacks and the last day or two is the real deal. I’m talking Gameboy and Spice Girl Barbie (Posh only).
The best part about Hanukkah (or any holiday for that matter) is family and maintaining a familial tradition. For instance, Hanukkah is always at my mom and dad’s house, no matter what. The house could be on fire, and my mom would still manage to cook like fifteen different dishes and insist that we eat them all, lest the Jewish guilt monster be unleashed!
Bonus perk: The Rugrats Hanukkah special
Every year, The Rugrats Hanukkah episode would play essentially on repeat until the holiday was over. This episode is the greatest because “a Maccababy’s gotta do what a Maccababy’s gotta do!” Watch it online here!