December may be on the horizon – but it’s not just Christmas we have to look forward to. There are also plenty of other cultural and religious festivals that take place towards the end of the year, including Hanukkah.
Many people describe this event as the ‘Jewish Christmas’ but there’s far more to it than good food and nice gifts. If you’re not too sure about the ins and outs of Hanukkah, or you want to find out how you can get involved here’s what you need to know.
So, what is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration which typically takes place in late November or early December. The exact date changes every year in line with the Hebrew lunar calendar.
Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights, and it commemorates the reclaiming of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 2 BC.
How is Hanukkah celebrated?
The most well-known element of Hanukkah celebrations is the nightly lighting of the menorah. Typically, every household will light their own at sundown before placing it in a door or window.
Getting together with loved ones is also another important part of Hanukkah. Feasting on delicious treats, singing traditional songs and reciting blessings are all popular ways to celebrate. Gifts are often exchanged between friends and family too, especially among children.
Four ideas for celebrating Hanukkah
Wondering how you can mark Hanukkah in 2021? Here are some simple ideas to do just that:
Attend a Hanukkah menorah lighting
The Hanukkah menorah (or hanukkiah) is a key element of any Hanukkah celebration. The lamp, which differs from a regular menorah, features nine flames. The first is known as the shamash and it’s used to light the remaining flames.
Every night of Hanukkah, a flame is lit. By the final evening on 6th December, the entire lamp should be alight. Most Jewish families have their own menorah at home but in recent years, it’s also become popular for giant public menorahs to be set up in cities across the UK. Live around Edinburgh or planning a trip there in late November? Join in with the Scottish National Hanukkah Celebration in St Andrew Square on 28th November to see the country’s tallest menorah lit up to commemorate the first day of the festival.
Sample some Jewish delicacies
From bagels to babkas, there are so many delicious treats to try with Jewish heritage. During Hanukkah, there are two specific treats that are traditionally eaten; doughnuts filled with jelly, and savoury potato pancakes (latkes).
The two foods are chosen specifically because they’re cooked in oil – a direct reference to the burning of the oil in a Hanukkah menorah. Want to try them? Here are some great Jewish delis and kosher bakeries across the North and Scotland where you can sample these heavenly Hanukkah bites:
This charming game isn’t just for kids! Dreidel has become a major part of Hanukkah and families have lots of fun competing against others to win coins or sweet treats.
If you’re not familiar with the dreidel, it’s a four-sided spinning top. On each of its sides are painted the following Hebrew letters: nun, gimmel, hei and shin. They form an acronym which translates to mean “a great miracle happened here”.
Want to have a go? Dreidels are easy to purchase online ahead of the festivities.
Gift family members some chocolate coins
Always thought chocolate coins were a Christmas tradition? These foil-wrapped treats actually have their roots in Hanukkah. They stem from the tradition of gifting others with ‘gelt’ (a word which means money in Hebrew and Yiddish).
While it’s traditional to gift children with real coins over Hanukkah, many families have swapped over to the chocolate variety instead. Yes, you’ll spot them in most supermarkets but why not check out a local chocolatier in one of our brilliant Northern cities instead?
Slattery in Manchester is well-known for their flavoured chocolate discs, while Bettys in York sell handcrafted milk chocolate guineas wrapped in gold foil. Yum!
Venturing to one of the cities on our network to pick up treats or attend special events for Hanukkah? Book your train tickets online or via the TPExpress app and get ready to enjoy the festival of lights.