Dreidels, Latkes and Sufganiyot

Happy Hanukkah!  We’re now two days into celebration.  Time for the really fun stuff!  Hanukkah is characterized by the joyous traditions associated with it.  Remember, it is a joyous occasion…and Jews don’t need much prodding to have a good time!  So let’s explore a few traditions.

Womens Participation in Hanukkah

Traditionally, women play a major role in the celebration of Hanukkah.  In the Middle Ages, Hanukkah became almost sacred for women and they were typically granted a reprieve from housework following the evening lighting of the candles.  In fact, according to Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, because women took part in the original miracle, they are to light the Hanukkah menorah each evening, proclaiming the miracle.


It is customary for Jewish children to play dreidel during Hanukkah.  They are given chocolate coins (called “gelt”) or some other form of chips to be played during the game.  A dreidel is a spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each of 4 sides.  Those letters make up an acronym which means “a great miracle happened there” (in Hebrew: “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham,” thus commemorating the Hanukkah miracle.  Here’s a short tutorial on how to play dreidel:


What in the world is a latke?  Well, this Jewish festival features certain kinds of food, namely those made with oil.  Again, oil is a reminder of the miracle…one day’s supply of Image result for latkesolive oil, used for lighting the menorah, lasting 8 days!  So, it is only fitting that oily foods would be part of the celebration!

A latke is a potato cake fried in oil!  (Yum yum…my kind of treat!)  Latkes are served during Hanukkah as a reminder of the miracle of oil.  Latkes are fairly simple to make.  Here’s how to make the perfect latke for Hanukkah:

PS: the key to keeping them from falling apart is to be sure all the moisture is out of them before frying!


Image result for sufganiyotSufganiyot seem to be more popular in Israel than latkes are.  What are they, pray tell!?!  Sugar-covered jelly doughnuts!  Again, a fried food, made with oil to commemorate the miracle! Most of us in the US would just run to the nearest doughnut shop for our Hanukkah sufganiyot.  However, if you wish to make your own, or any number of other deliciously fried Hanukkah treats, check out these Recipes for Hanukkah!  (In Israel, really good sufganiyot are to die for!)

I hope you are enjoying this Hanukkah season!  To all my Jewish friends around the world: Happy Hanukkah!  To all my Christian friends, remember: “No Hanukkah, no Christmas!”  So thank a Jewish person for the enduring heritage and “Never say die” hardiness of the Jewish people.

PS: If you missed the previous posts regarding Hanukkah, you will find them here:

What do Hanukkah Blessings tell Us About Christ?

Hi everyone!  I hope you are enjoying a little bit of Hanukkah as we join with our Jewish friends in celebrating the miracle that happened!  We’re in the midst of a series of posts about Hanukkah, so if you don’t know what that miracle was, please review:

We know that lighting the candles of the Hanukkah menorah is the focus of the celebration.  It happens each evening for 8 days, and in between placing the candles and lighting the candles, blessings are pronounced.

There are three blessings.  One is given only on the first night, but the other two are repeated each night.  As with most Hebrew blessings, they are typically sung, not said, so I’ll share those blessings in audio!  (Each is only about 30 seconds long and I’ve transcribed them in English below!)

Blessing #1:

Praised are You,
Our God, Ruler of the universe,
Who made us holy through Your commandments
and commanded us
to kindle the Hanukkah lights.

Blessing #2:

Praised are You,
Our God, Ruler of the universe,
Who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors
in those ancient days
at this season.

Blessing #3 (given only on the first night):

Praised are You,
Our God, Ruler of the universe,
Who has given us life and sustained us
and enabled us to reach this season.

Beautiful, aren’t they!  But what are the “take aways” for a Christian?  We talked yesterday about Jesus being the Light of the world, which these blessings allude to. (See that discussion in yesterday’s post.)

Secondly though, I think it is significant that each Hanukkah blessing begins with praise to God, and acknowledgement of Him as Ruler of the universe!

Though Hanukkah has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.  I find it interesting that so many parallels exist between Hanukkah and Christmas!  For example: both are celebrated in close proximity timewise, light plays a significant part in each, both commemorate supernatural miracles, and many other similarities.  Not to mention the fact that Hanukkah celebrates the failed attempt to eliminate the Jews and their culture. No Hanukkah, no Christmas!

But back to the idea of Jesus being the Ruler of the universe, the Old Testament clearly prophesied of One who would come as a Ruler:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders.
~Isaiah 9:6a

And New Testament passages quoted and confirmed those prophesies:

And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.
~Matthew 2:6

Jesus, of course, was the fulfillment of those prophecies!  Jews acknowledge the Ruler of the universe in their Hanukkah celebration, while Christians celebrate the birth of the Ruler of the universe in our Christmas celebration!

Jesus is also the fulfillment of these truths expressed in the blessings as well:

Hanukkah blessings are steeped in truth about our Lord.  How many more can you find?

Happy Hanukkah!


Hanukkah: Celebration of Light!

חנוכה שמח

Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown and Jews around the world will repeat that phrase, meaning “Happy Hanukkah!”  (Pronounced: Cha-nu-ka Sa-maech, with gutturals on the ‘ch’ sounds!)  Yesterday we talked about the meaning and significance of Hanukkah and today we’ll discover the focus of Hanukkah.

04 Menorah at Knesset (1)

7-branched Menorah near the Knesset

The focus of the Hanukkah celebration is the Hanukkah menorah, or the hanukiah.  Different than the 7-branched menorah we see symbolizing the Jewish state of Israel, the Hanukkah menorah has 9 branches, commemorating the 8 days in which the Temple menorah remained lit with a 1-day supply of oil.  (We’ll talk about that 9th branch shortly!)

Lighting of the Hanukkah menorah takes place in homes and publicly.  At home, it is customary (though not required) for Jews in Israel to place the Hanukkah menorah outside, facing the street in order to commemorate the miracle of Hanukkah as publicly as possible.  Most in the diaspora (living outside Israel) place the menorah indoors to prevent antagonism, vandalism and harsh weather.  Because the mezuzah is placed on the right door post, the menorah is customarily stationed to the left of the door or entryway.  There are specific rules about the height of the menorah (usually low), but basically it should be easily seen by others.


Giant Hanukkah menorah, in preparation of lighting on the first night (Jerusalem 2015)

During the 8 days of Hanukkah, one additional light (or candle) is lit each evening.  The 9th branch of the menorah, which sits higher or offset from the other 8, is the shamash, the “servant candle” from which each of the other candles are lit.

At dusk on night 1 of Hanukkah, a light or candle is placed in the furthest right branch, Hanukkah blessings are recited, the candle is lit (using the shamash) and remains lit until 1/2 hour after sundown.  Each night, an additional candle is added until, on the eighth night, each branch of the menorah is aflame, giving testimony to the great miracle that occurred!  Know this, however: candles are added right-to-left, but are lit left-to-right, always with Hanukkah blessings pronounced in between!

While Jewish traditions can be fun to enact, they serve no purpose for Christians other than to symbolize Biblical principles.  (ie – Observing Jewish feasts and celebrations does not make us more spiritual, nor does it determine our salvation, righteousness or anything else.)  For example, let’s go to God’s Word to see how Jesus is the Light of the World, on display in the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
~John 1:1-5, 14 [Emphasis mine]

Jesus is Light…and He shines in the darkness!  Need more?  Check this out:

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
~2 Corinthians 4:6 [Emphasis mine]

I find it fascinating that, when Jesus observed the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22), he had already proclaimed Himself to be the Light!  He had done so in John 1 (above), and he does so again in John 8:

“I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
~John 8:12

You see, Jesus knew what His purpose on earth was, and He was teaching His followers about Himself.  When He proclaimed Himself to be the Light of the world, the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) was a mere hours away, and He knew those followers would recall His statement when the lights of Hanukkah were lit.  (Want to dig deeper?  Read John 8-10!)

Today we have God’s written Word to tell us the same thing that Jesus said verbally!  He is indeed the Light of the World who gives us light.  Isn’t it interesting that, even in secular celebration of Christmas, we hang Christmas lights!  As Christians, if we choose to celebrate Hanukkah, we honor the historical significance it holds for our Jewish brothers and sisters, but we also know it is God’s written Word coming to life symbolically as we light the candles of Hanukkah!

Here is a very short video tutorial if you wish to properly light a menorah!  Happy Hanukkah!

What is Hanukkah About?

Ok my friends, jump into your Jewish mindset and let’s talk about Hanukkah!  It is a very festive occasion and commences tomorrow night at sundown.  But exactly what are our Jewish friends celebrating?  Perhaps this will help!

Throughout history Satan has tried to destroy God’s plan by destroying God’s people.  First, he deceived Eve, resulting in enmity with the one God said would crush his head. Later, horrible Haman concocted a plan to eliminate the Jewish people, but God used Esther to reveal the plan that reversed the fate of Haman.  Later, Jews were taken into captivity in attempts to separate them from their land, yet they returned.  Hitler and others made attempts in more modern history to eliminate the Jewish people, but they persevered and survived.

Well, another such attempt was made about 165 years before Christ, when Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes tried to squash Judaism by desecrating the Temple, erecting idols and forcing Jews to worship them.  When a priest named Mattathias was commanded by Syrian soldiers to sacrifice a pig on the pagan altar, he refused and fled with his 5 sons to the Judean Wilderness. These were the Maccabees, and other Jews joined them in plans to revolt.

Eventually, they led a revolt, making their way back to Jerusalem where they dismantled the pagan altars and reclaimed the Temple.  When it came time to light the menorah and re-dedicate the Temple, they found only one days worth of oil.  How would they accomplish the 8-day celebration?  It would take at least that long to get purified olive oil from the Galilee region to keep the menorah lit.

You may be familiar with the miracle of God multiplying 2 fish and 5 loaves on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to feed thousands of people in Jesus’ time.  But that wasn’t the first time God multiplied provision!  He did so with that single days worth of oil, making it last 8 days!

So, even to this day, the Jews celebrate the same Festival of Dedication Jesus celebrated (John 10:22).  It is called Hanukkah (or the Festival of Lights) and always begins on the 25th day of Kislev and lasts for 8 days.  The Hebrew calendar is a lunar one, so does not align consistently with our Gregorian calendar.  Thus, Hanukkah typically begins in early- to mid-December.  This year, it begins at sundown on Tuesday, December 12.

Why not share this simplified account of Hanukkah with your family:


Stay tuned for more fun Hanukkah facts over the next few days, as we honor our Jewish friends by understanding their celebratory feasts!