Chanukah is a relatively modern holiday in regard to the Hebrew calendar. Unlike Yom Kippur or Passover, which are steeped in rich traditions, there are few Chanukah customs. Chanukah begins the evening of Dec. 18 and ends the evening of Dec. 26 this year.
Chanukah celebrants still participate in various customs each year, some of which are customized according to family preferences.
While some traditions, such as the lighting of the Chanukah menorah, are familiar, others may not be as widely known — especially to those outside of the faith. Here’s a look at a select few.
Saying the Shehecheyanu blessing
Traditionally, there are two blessings that some people say each night while lighting the candles. The first is recited while holding the lit shamash, and the second is said while lighting the candles.
Another blessing, known as the “Shehecheyanu,” is said on the first night only. This blessing is traditionally said on the first night of all Jewish holidays and other special occasions, whenever someone does something or experiences something for the first time during the year.
Singing “Ma’oz Tzur”
Chanukah songs may not be as numerous or as widely sung as Christmas carols during the holiday season, but there are a select few that are part of the festivities.
“Oh Chanukah Oh Chanukah” and “The Dreidel Song” are some of the most widely known songs, but some people also follow the custom of singing “Ma’oz Tzur (Rock of Ages)” around the menorah. The words were composed in the 13th century, and the song summarizes historical challenges faced by the Jewish people that were overcome with God’s help.
Use of oil in Chanukah feasts
It’s well known that latkes, or fried potato pancakes, are served around Chanukah. The reason is due to the oil used to fry them, which traditionally is olive oil. Fried foods call to mind a specific Chanukah miracle. After the Greeks destroyed the sanctuary and defiled what was thought to be all of the oil, one jug sealed with the imprint of the High Priest was found.
That one jug managed to keep the Temple’s menorah lit for eight days, despite it being insufficient to handle this task. This was considered a miracle and celebrated in subsequent years.
Another food eaten at Chanukah are donuts, because they are fried in oil. Sufganiyot are an Israeli deep-fried jelly doughnuts. These delicious dessert treats are made with yeast and must be allowed to rise.
They're often topped with confectioners sugar. For Sephardic Jews, bumuelos are eaten. These are fried fritters. Unlike the leavened sufganiyot, bumuelos are made with unleavened matzo meal as well as eggs, syrup, and both lemon and orange peel.
Chanukah is a relatively modern holiday with few traditions. However, the customs associated with this holiday are held dear.