Celebrating the Many Traditions of Hanukkah
Hanukkah is a festive, eight-day celebration that falls in November or December. This year, families across Colorado and throughout the world will celebrate the Jewish holiday starting at sundown on Sunday, December 18 and ending on Monday, December 26.
Hanukkah traditions include lighting the menorah, playing dreidel and eating special holiday foods fried in oil like potato latkes (see recipe page 27) and jelly-filled doughnuts called sufganiyot.
“Like any good holiday, food is an important part,” said American Academy parent Dan Krueger. “We make latkes at least once every year, and typically we purchase sufganiyot for the first night.”
Dan and his wife, Ange, live on the north end of Castle Rock with their two children, Ava (11) and Alexis (7), who attend American Academy in Castle Pines. There are not a lot of Jewish families at the school, but the Kruegers send in dreidels every year for all the kids in their daughters’ grades to share a part of Hanukkah with their classmates.
The game of dreidel uses a four-sided spinning top that has Hebrew letters on it. Each person playing the game puts a portion of their stash of candy, coins or other small objects into the center. The pot is won depending on how the dreidel falls and which Hebrew letter it lands on.
“I went to a private Jewish school growing up, and my school-age perspective is at the opposite end of the spectrum,” shared Dan. “Just making sure that school is a warm and inviting place for every kid is just so important.”
Dan and Ange remember helping Alexis represent her Jewish heritage last year at school. Every child was asked to bring an ornament to hang on the Christmas tree.
The Kruegers created a dreidel ornament for their then-first grader to put on the tree.
“There are a lot of holidays in the December time frame,” added Dan. “Helping our kids not feel overwhelmed by the doors or bulletin boards that are Christmas-focused is important.”
Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights, celebrates the miracle that happened when a small Jewish army known as the Maccabees defeated the Syrians and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem. The menorah, an eight-branched candelabrum which was always expected to be burning in the Temple, was dark. The Maccabees could only find enough oil to keep the menorah burning for one day, but it miraculously burned for eight days. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days, one for each day the oil burned.
On each night of Hanukkah, families gather around the menorah. One candle is lit for each night, while saying a blessing. After lighting the menorah, children usually play dreidel, open one present for each night and enjoy spending time together. “We probably overdo the presents,” laughed Ange.
To get into the Hanukkah spirit, the Krueger family will hang lighted decorations and make Hanukkah cookies.
“One of the more family-fun things that we do is the combination of decorating the house and at the same time baking cookies and decorating them for family and friends,” said Ange.
“There are sprinkles from one end of the house to the other.”
By Mindy Stone Tappan; photo courtesy of the Krueger family