Hannukah Rituals
December 19, 2003 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone enlighten me as to Hannukah rituals? I've googled about, but only find the technicalities of ceremony. I need to know the things that people take for granted - whether presents get wrapped, if they get increasingly expensive across the days, what sort of things are usual to give and do. Everything.
posted by bonaldi to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Check out the articles at JewishEncyclopedia.com and Judaism 101. Do these cover what you want? If not, there are plenty more. Be sure to try different spellings when searching ("chanukkah," etc).
posted by arco at 9:26 AM on December 19, 2003

I've been told that the most accurate spelling is "Hanukkah." Seems to give the most Google results, too...
posted by staggernation at 9:28 AM on December 19, 2003

Response by poster: They're great links, thanks. I am ritualed up.

About the presents - can any Jewish people fill me in on what level of stuff you give/receive? Are we talking a shiny new BMX every day, or what my granny would call "a wee minding"?
posted by bonaldi at 9:31 AM on December 19, 2003

There were always a range of presents, just as there would be for Christmas. One of the traditional presents, however, is Chanukah gelt (i.e., $, both real and chocolate).
posted by thomas j wise at 9:51 AM on December 19, 2003

much american hanukah gifting is about xmas parity rather than actual holiday tradition. in my family, we never did 8 days of gifts. the nice part is spending time together over the course of a week rather than just on one day...
posted by judith at 10:31 AM on December 19, 2003

from that judaism 101 article:

" Chanukkah is not a very important religious holiday. The holiday's religious significance is far less than that of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavu'ot. It is roughly equivalent to Purim in significance, and you won't find many non-Jews who have even heard of Purim! Chanukkah is not mentioned in Jewish scripture; the story is related in the book of Maccabbees, which Jews do not accept as scripture."


" Gift-giving is not a traditional part of the holiday, but has been added in places where Jews have a lot of contact with Christians, as a way of dealing with our children's jealousy of their Christian friends. It is extremely unusual for Jews to give Chanukkah gifts to anyone other than their own young children. The only traditional gift of the holiday is "gelt," small amounts of money."

i would not say *extremely* unusual, but it's really just not part of the tradition.
posted by judith at 10:36 AM on December 19, 2003

OK - keep in mind that Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday in the rest of the world. American Jews trumped it up so that us Jewish kids wouldn't feel so bad around our Christian friends.

The main holiday thing is an extra candle gets lit every night.

There is a gambling game with a spinning top called a dreidel. Often played with chocolate coins (wrapped in gold foil) called gelt.

There are songs.

There are fried potato pancakes, called latkes. Since the holiday is about an oil shortage, there are rumors that the frying of the latkes in oil is part of the ritual, though I've never quite believed that - however, I've never seen or heard of baked pancakes. My grandmother would turn over in her grave, to hear such a thing.

We never had a sense that the presents increase over the course of the holiday. Our tradition was to kick it off and end it with a bigger type present, and have smaller things "tschokes" in the intervening days. Kind of like stocking stuffer type things in the Christmas world. The big present was at the sort of level as a regular Christmas present (keep in mind that the Americanization of the holiday has to do with "equalizing" the Jewish and Christian holiday) - so whatever would be customary among your particular group for Christmas is about the right level. This year, I'll be giving our kids LOTR DVDs, for instance.

Yes, wrap the presents.
posted by jasper411 at 10:42 AM on December 19, 2003

Response by poster: Thanks all. I'm going to be giving gelt and chocolates tonight, and I'll dream up something else tomorrow.

Great salon.com article on the Christmas comparisons here and my girlfriend tells me that her gang of J-friends made all the Christians at school feel put out, waltzing about with a present a day. Heh.
posted by bonaldi at 11:14 AM on December 19, 2003

At some level Hanukkah gifts are really not part of the holiday too much; the candles and the menorah are the more important parts. Hanukkah gifts are generally small and in my family there were mostly gifts for the children only, as Judith says. This guy is grouchy but he does offer some good reasons why Hanukkah really has little to do with gifts, especially within the Jewish tradition.
posted by jessamyn at 11:41 AM on December 19, 2003

There are fried potato pancakes, called latkes.

I'm not Jewish, myself, but I second this: make some latkes, and serve them with applesauce and sour cream. They're easy and fun to make, and delicious. One of the best, most comforting meals I ever had was when a Jewish friend of mine made up piles of latkes for everybody who didn't have anywhere to go for the holidays. Heck, I ought to make some this year, myself!
posted by vorfeed at 12:33 PM on December 19, 2003

jasper411, the tradition is to eat oily foods, to symbolize the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. We can't have a holiday without symbolic food, after all.

Hannukah at casa de Ruki consists of one present for each of us (we don't wrap, but we're lazy like that), given the first night, followed by a family dinner at my father-in-law's house. And then it's just lighting the menorah and saying the blessings for the rest of the days. Aside from that, it's just life as usual.

When my husband was a child, he got eight pieces of a bicycle one Hannukah, one piece a night. He got the seat on the last night.
posted by Ruki at 12:50 PM on December 19, 2003

In my childhood, Hanukkah was definitely a consolation prize for being excluded from the mass hysteria that is Christmas in America. I knew a lot of Jewish families with kids who would put a Christmas tree in their house and call it a "Hannukkah Bush". When my sister and I were in our early teens, we went to my parents and told them that we were big kids now and so they didn't have to give us gifts anymore.
posted by fuzz at 1:34 PM on December 19, 2003

We had a mix of good gifts (the game we wanted or a skateboard) and crappy, cheap stuff, like a sweater or socks or 99cent toys or baseball cards. Every family does it differently tho so make it your own--I know my brothers and I looked forward to it every night, and loved lighting the candles and saying the prayers (and then, of course, getting a present or two, and eating latkes). As we got older we gave presents as well as getting...Happy Hanukkah all! : >
posted by amberglow at 3:40 PM on December 19, 2003

By the way, try sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes for a nice latke variation.
posted by staggernation at 9:42 PM on December 19, 2003

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