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What to Expect at a Chanukah Party

What to Expect at a Chanukah Party

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Photo credits: Flash90
Photo credits: Flash90

Of all Jewish events, a Chanukah holiday celebration is probably one of the most flexible, with the most room for creative improvisation, so there are very few hard, fast rules of what to do when. Here are some common elements that you may find:

  • The central observance of Chanukah is the menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum, upon which we light an additional flame for each of the eight nights of the holiday. If the celebration is called for late afternoon or evening, chances are that someone will be lighting the menorah. They’ll say blessings, light the candles, and sing some traditional melodies. If you’re a guy, you want to have your head covered. Other than that, you can just listen, watch and respond “Amen” after the blessings, being mindful of the wonderful miracles G‑d did and continues to do.
  • Traditional Chanukah foods are often dairy (commemorating the cheese that led to a pivotal victory) or fried in oil (because of the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days). Some classics are cheese or potato latkes (pancakes), commonly served with sour cream or applesauce, and donuts.
  • A big part of Chanukah is the giving of Chanukah gelt, Yiddish for “money.” In some communities, this has morphed into giving gifts of all kinds. And this is the only tricky part. There is a good chance that you may be expected to show up with a gift. If you think this is the case, here is some advice:
    • You may as well make it something meaningful, consistent with the spiritual nature of the holiday. So I’d recommend a Torah book over a gadget any day.
    • You may want to include a gift receipt so that if this is not the perfect gift, the receiver can pick one out himself.
    • Lastly, considering how difficult it is to guess what people want, you may want to just give cash or a gift card. This is also the most traditional track.
    In recent years, the Chanukah gelt has given rise to a new product: chocolate coins covered in tinfoil. If you see them served, you’ll know why they’re there.
  • At Chanukah gatherings, it’s traditional to play a game called Dreidel, named for the spinning top that bears four Hebrew letters, one on each side. Each player starts out with some tokens (such as pennies, nuts or chocolate coins). The letter that is facing up when the dreidel comes to rest determines whether the player will contribute tokens to or take tokens from the central pot. You can click here for full Dreidel instructions.
  • When the fun is over, we recite a special blessing thanking G‑d for the food we ate (there is also a blessing before we eat). When saying the blessing after bread, you’ll notice that there is a special paragraph added in which we thank G‑d for the miraculous victory that led to the establishment of Chanukah.

Oh, and did I mention to make sure to have fun? It’s Chanukah. We’re celebrating G‑d’s miracles and our right to serve Him, so be happy!

Last but not least, now that you’ve enjoyed Chanukah, make sure to spread the cheer to others. Grab a Chanukah menorah kit and some goodies and invite some friends, relatives or neighbors to a Chanukah celebration of your own.

Did you find this informative? This is part of a series of “What to Expect” articles that offer visitors a basic understanding of Jewish rituals and traditions.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
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Debra Kalamazoo, MI December 10, 2017

Thank you Reply

Anonymous Galveston, Texas via jbayarea.org December 18, 2014

What to expect Thank you for sharing this information. It has really helped me to be prepared for the celebration party. Reply

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