December is here and holiday celebrations are about to take over our lives (if they haven’t already). Everywhere I look, I feel bombarded with ways to celebrate Christmas. My Instagram feed is full of families dressed in matching holiday pajamas, swoon-worthy images of picture-perfect Christmas trees, and mantels sporting custom stockings.
As a Jewish person, this can all make me feel a bit left out of the holiday spirit. While my family celebrated Hanukkah growing up, the festivities never lived up to the hype of my Christmas-celebrating friends. And as I’ve gotten older, we’ve basically skipped celebrating all together.
Now that my husband and I have started a family of our own, I want to make the holiday season special for our daughter and start some Hanukkah traditions of our own. There are plenty of fun ways to celebrate this special holiday, and lucky us, we get eight nights to cram in all the fun.
Here are eight ways to celebrate Hanukkah, hopefully inspiring new family traditions to look forward to doing year after year.
1. Latke Tasting or Latke Competition
Growing up, we always had a night of latkes (otherwise known as fried potato pancakes). They were pretty standard, made with your typical russet potato. Now, I’ve learned you can get creative with your latkes. Spend a few minutes on Pinterest, and you’ll find endless latke recipes, like ones made with sweet potatoes, ones that are baked versus fried, versions that include a unique blend of spices, cheesy latkes, latkes including other veggies (like celery root, butternut squash, or zucchini), and the list goes on.
Turn these fun recipes into a new tradition, either making a variety and doing a mini latke tasting, or turning it into a family competition. Each family member selects (or makes up!) their own recipe and submits them for a tasting competition.
2. Hanukkah Donut Decorating
The theme of fried food seems to be a strong one during Hanukkah, and in addition to fried potato pancakes, donuts are a traditional holiday food. Much like you might decorate holiday cookies, spend some time decorating Hanukkah donuts with frosting and special sprinkles. Either grab some plain donuts from a nearby shop or get extra fancy and make them yourself. Enjoy the donuts while lighting the candles and opening gifts.
3. Virtual Candle Lighting
The holidays are about togetherness, but sometimes you can’t physically be with your extended family and friends (particularly in 2020). In advance of the holiday, make a schedule with family and friends to set up virtual candle lighting dates.
4. Make and Decorate Gelt
Sure, you can buy Hanukkah gelt, but if you want to get really creative, you can make your own. Buy coin-shaped molds and melt chocolate to create your own chocolate coins. Include toppings like dried fruit, nuts, sprinkles, and whatever else appeals to your little ones.
5. Family Dreidel Night
Now you can use your homemade gelt for a family-friendly competition. Each participant spins the dreidel and depending on what side faces up when it stops spinning, the player either gives or takes a piece of gelt from the pot, the player does nothing, or the player gets all the gelt from the pot. It’s a quick and fun game that involves lots of chocolate—what’s not to like?
6. Matching Pajamas and Movie Night
I’m happy to report that each year, I see more and more Hanukkah themed pajamas available. Grab a set for your entire family (dog included!) and cozy up one night with your matching pajamas and a movie to enjoy together. Either go with a Hanukkah print, or opt for a seasonal flannel or snowflake design. Admittedly, I wish there were more Hanukkah-themed movies to choose from, but any cozy, snowy movie will do.
7. Eight Nights of Mini Gifts
The most brag-worthy part of Hanukkah as a child is explaining that our holiday lasts eight nights and included gifts each night. Not every family goes for gifts all eight nights, but if you can swing it, it’s pretty fun. These gifts don’t need to be huge. Each night can be the equivalent of a stocking stuffer type gift: little items that are fun to receive but don’t break the bank. Consider gifts that your kids already need (new socks anyone?), and it’s still fun for everyone!
8. Hanukkah Book of the Night
There are so many fun Hanukkah books to learn about the holiday. Set aside eight books (one for each night), and read them with your kids before bedtime. If you haven’t yet purchased eight books about Hanukkah, this is the perfect item to give as one of the nightly gifts.
This article was originally published on November 25, 2020 and has been updated for timelines.