How to Celebrate a Hanukkah They Will Love More Than Christmas
Build Anticipation for the Big Day
Create a homemade calendar countdown. Buy small gift boxes at the craft store, wrap them in festive blue wrapping paper, attach a number on the outside (sticker or label, your choice) and fill them with a wide variety of treats. Some of the treats I have used in the past are:
- Blue saltwater taffy
- Blue gummy bears
- Blue and silver Hershey's kisses
- Straws with big blue polka dots
- Blue Tootsie Roll midgees
- Blue, white or silver jordan almonds
- Blue gumballs
- Blue lollipops
- Blue jelly beans
- Cookies from Modern bite available at modern Tribe
- White chocolate covered mini Oreos with blue sprinkles
- White chocolate covered pretzels with sprinkles
- Hanukkah stickers
- Hanukkah temporary tattoos
- Gelt for grown-ups from Veruca Chocolates
The key to building anticipation is to not have too much in the box. I usually start my countdown two weeks in advance of the beginning of Hanukkah.
Decorate Inside and Out
Unless you live in a large metropolitan area with a significant Jewish population, your choice of decorations will be limited. So what we decided to do was make our own (see photo above).
How to Decorate Outdoors
My husband and son went to Home Depot, bought two pieces of plywood and dowels. Since we don't have a saw, Home Depot did the large straight cuts and then my husband used a hand saw to cut the triangular sections of the dreidels. They put them together with wood glue and wood screws and then painted them. Not only does it make our yard look more festive but it creates such wonderful loving memories that we will cherish for years to come.
How to Decorate Indoors
There are so many ways to decorate indoors, but I'll just mention a few.
- Coat small dreidels with a layer of glue, sprinkle with glitter, let dry and display in a clear glass container as a centerpiece.
- Spray paint pinecones with different shades of blue, white and silver. Attach them to ribbon with a hot glue gun and let them dangle off your staircase.
- Wrap white or blue twinkling lights around your windows (inside and out).
- Change your outdoor lightbulbs to the blue ones that are available at the hardware store.
Send Out a Holiday Newsletter
With so many families being interfaith, or simply not religious, sending out holiday cards can feel like walking through a minefield. We send out a homemade holiday newsletter. On one side we put pictures from the past year as well as art done by my son, memorabilia from the year and scrapbooking decorations. We scan our design and then use it to print out a newsletter. I know many people feel they are impersonal, so I always attach a personal short note to each letter. It's just another great way to get everyone involved in the holiday.
The Great Christmas Tree and Gift Debates
Since my husband was raised Jewish, he never had a Christmas tree as a child. While I am perfectly happy celebrating Hanukkah without any kind of tree, he was not. It was something that he always wanted and it never passed. So in the spirit of compromise, we have a "Tree of Life."
Our Tree of Life
We cut down a small bush from our yard, sometimes we spray it silver, and then decorate it with blue, silver and white. While many people would not be happy with this solution, please remember the practice of bringing in evergreens was originally a pagan tradition—not Christian. People adopt symbols for their own uses all the time and for us, that is our tree of life.
How We Handle Gifts
We also do not give out gifts on each day of Hanukkah. We felt that it was simply too long to celebrate. So while we each have our own menorahs and we light the candles each night, we actually save the gifts and the big feast for the last day of the holiday. For us it just simply has the greatest impact that way.
When it comes to gifting we have a very simple rule: No money or gift cards allowed. It's too impersonal and requires no effort or thought. Gifts are all about effort and thought. Spend as little or as much as you like, but make it meaningful.
3 Hanukkah Recipes
While I love to try new recipes and switch up the holiday, my family does not. So our feast includes their favorite foods: brisket, potato pancakes and donuts. Brisket, while delicious, is also easy to cook. Here are the recipes I use:
Easy Barbecued Beef Brisket
- 7 pound beef brisket
- 1 bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce
- Set crockpot on high.
- Cover the brisket with water.
- Cook for about 6 1/2 hours.
- Check for tenderness. Cook longer if needed.
- Drain off the water and slice when cooled.
- Cover with barbecue sauce and broil until the sauce is bubbly and serve.
- 3 pounds potatoes
- 2 eggs
- 1teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons flour
- olive oil (for frying)
- Wash the potatoes. I don't peel mine because it's healthier to eat the skins. Peeling them won't affect the recipe.
- Grate the potatoes in a food processor.
- Salt the potatoes and set them to drain in a colander for about 1 hour. Then squeeze the excess liquid out by hand.
- Mix in the eggs and flour.
- Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until very hot.
- Drop potato mixture by heaping tablespoons into oil.
- Use a pancake turner to flatten them out.
- Fry to golden brown on both sides (about 3 minutes per side).
- Drain on paper towels.
- Serve immediately with a choice of applesauce, sour cream and ketchup.
Chocolate Eclair Sufganiyot
My husband loves eclairs, and we all love chocolate, so this is our traditional Hanukkah sweet. I hope you enjoy it.
- 2 packets yeast
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 1 egg plus 3 egg yolks
- 4 3/4 cups flour
- 1 box vanilla pudding
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 8 ounces chocolate chips
- Heat milk to 115 degrees and sprinkle with yeast.
- Cream the butter and sugar.
- Add the eggs.
- Mix in the flour.
- Put the dough in a greased bowl and let rise for about 1.5 hours.
- After the dough has risen, roll out the dough to about 1/2 inch thickness and cut into three-inch circles.
- Let rise for another 30 minutes.
- Heat the oil and fry on both sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towel.
- Make vanilla pudding according to the directions on the box.
- Once the donuts are cool and the pudding has set, fill the donuts with the pudding.
- Ice with ganache.
- To make the ganache, bring the heavy whipping cream to a simmer. Pour the chocolate chips in a bowl, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir. The longer it sits the thicker it becomes.
- Frost your donuts and enjoy.
Don't Forget the Most Important Ingredient
Family and friends. Our family celebration of Hanukkah is on the eighth day, but we celebrate with friends the other seven nights. Ordinarily one night will be reserved for a cookie swap. We may play boards games. My son is a bit too old for dreidel, so we usually play Apples to Apples: Jewish Edition or Settlers of Canaan. Ordinarily we will have a movie night. One of our favorites is Defiance, which ties in somewhat with the theme of Hanukkah.
Most importantly, we are embracing our heritage and creating a sense of community that defeats the need to celebrate Christmas.
No Hanukkah would be complete without Adam Sandler's Hanukkah song. Happy Hanukkah!
Many children feel they are missing out by not celebrating Christmas. Do you feel this way as an adult?
© 2015 Chantelle Porter