Hannukah traditions

Food LatkesBy Paola Fernandez

Copy Editor

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that takes place over the course of eight days, it is also known as Festival of Lights, and the Feast of Dedication. This year, Hanukkah starts on Wednesday November 27, and ends on Thursday December 5. Here are some of the traditions that take place during the celebration of Hanukkah.

Menorah Lighting

Elena Kagan
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan lights a menorah.

The menorah is a nine-branched candelabrum which is lit during the Hanukkah celebration. The ninth holder of the menorah is called the shamash (meaning “helper”) and is used to light all the other candles on the menorah. The menorah is one of the most traditional Jewish symbols, along with the Star of David. During Hanukkah, the menorah is publicly displayed and is often lit by elected officials at public lighting ceremonies.


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Traditional dreidel.

A dreidel is a four sided spinning top with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet on each side. The letters are Nun, Gimel, Hei, and Shin, together these four letters form the acronym “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” which translates to “a great miracle happened there” The game is played to see who can win the most gelt (Hebrew for money) or for the game’s purpose, chocolate covered coins or anything that can be used as a token. Before spinning the dreidel, each player has to puts one of their tokens in the middle of the circle, this is known as “the pot”. Players can then take their turns to spin the dreidel and their action depends on the side or letter lands face up. If you land on Shin, you have to put one more token in “the pot”, Nun means you do nothing, Gimel you get to take all the tokens from “the pot” and Hei means you take half of the tokens in “the pot”.

Food cooked in oil

Laura Frankel's potato latkes surrounded by a variety of toppings.
Laura Frankel’s potato latkes surrounded by a variety of toppings. (Larry Crowe/AP images)

During Hanukkah its considered a tradition to cook foods fried in oil. This tradition takes place in commemoration of the miracle that occurred after The Maccabees rebelled against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, where according to the Talmud (a Jewish text) “the temple was purified and the wicks of the menorah burned for eight days, even though there was only enough oil for them to burn for one day.” Some of the traditional Hanukkah fried foods are latkes, which are made with cheese and have the consistency of a friend pancake. Potato latkes are also popular during Hanukkah.

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