8 ways to celebrate Chanukah that don’t involve gifts
By Maayan Jaffe/JNS.org
Despite Chanukah being one of the few Jewish holidays not mentioned in the Torah, it gets a lot of play—pun intended. Shmuel Arnold of Baltimore recalls how while growing up in a secular Jewish household, his parents made an extra effort to give Chanukah gifts every night. Sometimes they needed to get creative, like wrapping socks or delivering a gift from an extended family member.
Without even a rendition of “Rock of Ages” around the Chanukah menorah, Arnold says the holiday had one meaning: presents. Today, however, married with three children ranging in age from 9 to 18, Arnold—like many other parents—tries to infuse more meaning into the Festival of Lights.
With eight days of Chanukah coming up, here are eight ways to celebrate the holiday that don’t involve gifts:
Every year, children learn how to light the candles and about the miracle of the Maccabees in school or Hebrew school. They also make a token Chanukah menorah (or Chanukkiah)—likely out of clay, nuts, and bolts. Fun and creative activities can help Chanukah come alive at home, too. Pinterest has a colorful variety of Chanukah crafts that work for children ranging from toddlers through high schoolers.
A favorite in my house is the Chanukah handprint. Children dip their palms into a bowl of fabric paint and stamp it on a sweatshirt (it works on paper, too, but a sweatshirt is more practical). Then, they dip each of their fingers into paint to create finger candles. Finally, they take their thumb and stamp it in the middle—the shamash (worker candle). Add a flame to each candle, and you’re done!
My younger kids love the feel of the gushy paint and often use a different color for every finger candle. My oldest daughter is careful to ensure her print looks authentic. She uses the same color for the palm and the fingers and then adds perfect yellow or orange ovals on top.
It might not seem so original, but Chanukah
is a great time for a party. Unlike other Jewish holidays that involve extra time in synagogue, or for Orthodox Jews might preclude playing music or driving, Chanukah is eight days (except for a regularly observed Shabbat) of unabashed fun.
Birthday in a Box offers traditional Chanukah party tips, as well as some fun and quirky new spins on Chanukah decorations, food, and favors.
If you live in a “Jewish area,” where lots of families celebrate the holiday, Arnold suggests taking a “chanukkiah tour.” He says in that Baltimore or Israel (where he used to live), one can walk around the streets and see everyone’s lights in the windows.
“It’s amazing…Being a Jew is something you don’t have to hide anymore. When my father was growing up he used to get beaten up for being Jewish and he learned to place the menorah on the table, somewhere hidden inside the house,” says Arnold. “When we light, we make a big deal to put it in the window…and help people remember that you can be proud to be a Jew.”
You have a little dreidel—so use it! Pull the neighbors, young and old, together for a dreidel tournament. Break into teams of three and four and get spinning. We use candy as prizes. (It’s best to use something wrapped since it will be touched by lots of little hands).
You can purchase dreidels in bulk from Judaica.com or often at your local synagogue’s gift shop. It adds to the excitement when you have dreidels of various sizes and colors.
If you’re particularly serious about dreidel-playing, I found a website for a “Chai stakes” dreidel tournament that breaks down the “official” rules and regulations for “World Series Dreidel.” In my house, however, we seem to do better when the children are free to cry over spinning too many Hebrew-letter shins (put two antes in the center), and the prize is Hershey’s Kisses.
TALK ABOUT THE MIRACLE
As Arnold’s children have gotten older, he uses the 30 minutes required to sit around the Chanukah candles as a way to discuss the miracles of the holiday and some of its more esoteric significance.
“When Hashem created the world there were no stars or planets. The or—the light—was a non-physical or. That or, the light of God, is what the Yevanim (Greeks) were trying to knock out of the world, “Arnold explains. “I tell my children that we can use Hashem’s light like a soldier uses night vision goggles…to see His hidden miracles, to appreciate the spiritual light.”
SHOP—FOR SOMEONE IN NEED
Rebecca Katz of Overland Park, Kan., remembers that as a child she and her family would work with a local charity to receive the names of local families in need—Jewish and non-Jewish. Then, she and her siblings would be provided those families’ holiday wish lists and go shopping for them (instead of for themselves). Once the gifts were purchased, they would hand wrap them and deliver them in person.
“I remember one year, we got to this family, went upstairs and they had a tree, but it was completely empty underneath,” Katz says. “We put all the gifts there and it was so unexpected. The children were so happy.”
RE-ENACT THE CHANUKAH STORY
Younger children can enjoy a game of dress-up. If you have enough kids or can get classmates involved, a re-enactment of the Chanukah story can add to the spirit of the eight days. Kids enjoy dressing up in togas (just use some old sheets) and wielding plastic swords and shields. To make it easier, use a book, such as The Story of Hanukkah by Norma Simon, as a guide.
If your own children don’t want to dress up and tell the Chanukah story, Chabad.org has a large collection of Chanukah videos that both educate and entertain.
Chanukah is sweeter and oily-finger-lickin’ good with homemade sufganiyot (deep-fried jelly doughnuts). Miriam Litt of Modi’in, Israel, recalls how she used to spend hours in the kitchen baking Chanukah donuts.
“I used real whipping cream and added pudding and then I would squirt it inside,” she says.
Sometimes, she would get creative by mixing up the creamy flavors.
“I did my thing and the kids—they sure liked eating it,” Miriam says with a laugh.
Refresh your Chanukah dessert table with pastry chef Paula Shoyer
Doughnuts and potato latkes are the most traditional Chanukah foods. Like latkes, doughnuts are best eaten the day they are made, but even on the second day you can get good results by re-heating them.
To make doughnuts look festive, roll them in colored sugar.
1/4 ounce (1 envelope; 7g) dry yeast
1/4 cup (60ml) warm water
1/2 cup (100g) plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
1/2 cup (120ml) soy milk
2 tablespoons (28g) margarine, at room temperature for at least 15 minutes
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2¼–2½ cups (280–315g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (100g) plain or colored sugar for dusting doughnuts
Canola oil for frying
In a large bowl, place the yeast, warm water, and one teaspoon of the sugar and stir. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, or until thick.
Add the remaining sugar, soy milk, margarine, egg, vanilla, salt, and 1½ cups (190g) flour and mix—either with a wooden spoon or with a dough hook in a stand mixer—on low speed. Add 1/2 cup (65g) more flour and mix in. Add 1/4 (30g) cup flour and mix in. If the dough remains sticky, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough becomes smooth.
Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and let the dough rise for one hour in a warm place. I use a warming drawer (see note below) on a low setting (about 200°F/90°C), or you can turn your oven on to its lowest setting, place the bowl in the oven, and then turn off the oven.
After one hour, punch down the dough by folding it over a few times and reshaping it into a ball. Re-cover the dough and let it rise for 10 minutes.
Dust a cookie sheet with flour. Sprinkle some flour on the counter or on parchment paper and use a rolling pin to roll the dough out until it’s about 1/2-inch (1.25cm) thick. Using a small round cookie cutter about 1 to 1½ inches (2.5 to 4cm) in diameter, cut out small circles very close to each other, and place them on the cookie sheet. Re-roll any scraps. Cover the doughnuts with the towel. Place the cookie sheet back in the oven (warm but turned off) or warming drawer. Let the doughnuts rise for 30 minutes.
Heat 1½ inches (4cm) of oil in a medium saucepan for a few minutes and use a candy thermometer to see when the oil stays between 365°F and 375°F (185°C to 190°C); adjust the flame to keep the oil in that temperature range. Cover a cookie sheet with foil. Place a wire rack on top of the cookie sheet and set it near the stovetop.
When the oil is ready, add the doughnut holes to the oil one at a time, top-side down, putting an edge in first and then sliding in the rest of the doughnut; if you drop the doughnuts into the pan an inch or higher from the oil it can splatter and burn your fingers. You can fry up to eight doughnut holes at a time. Cook for 45-60 seconds. Use tongs or chopsticks to turn the doughnut holes over and cook them another 45-60 seconds, or until golden. Lift with a slotted spoon and place on the wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts.
Place the sugar in a shallow bowl and roll the doughnut holes in the sugar to coat. Store covered at room temperature for up to one day and re-heat to serve.
These tie-dyed cookies are a whimsical version of classic chocolate and vanilla black and white cookies that could also be a great, alternative addition to your Chanukah dessert table. You can make any design you like (I provide a few options below). Have fun!
Ingredients for cookies:
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup (80ml) soy milk
1 cups (190g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups (240g) confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Several colors of gel food coloring
Directions for the cookies:
Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C).
Put the sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla, and lemon juice into a large bowl and beat for about 30 seconds with an electric mixer on medium speed until the ingredients are combined. Add the soymilk and mix in. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until combined.
Cover three cookie sheets with parchment paper, or plan to bake in batches. With a measuring teaspoon or melon-baller, drop heaping teaspoons of batter onto the cookie sheet, about 1 inch (4cm) apart. Try to keep the shape of the cookies round.
Bake the cookies for 15-17 minutes, or until they feel solid when the top is pressed. The color should remain light; only the outside edges of the bottoms should look lightly browned if you lift up one cookie. If the cookies are stuck to the pan, they need a little more baking time. Remove the pan from the oven and slide the parchment onto a wire rack. When the pan has cooled, use a spatula to lift the cookies off the parchment, or peel the parchment off the cookies, and place them on the cooling rack. The cookies may be made one day in advance and stored covered at room temperature.
Directions for the icing:
Put the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Add two tablespoons of boiling water, vanilla, and lemon juice and whisk vigorously. If the mixture is too thick to spread, add another 1/2 teaspoon (or more) of boiling water and whisk well until you have a thick but still pourable consistency. The icing will thicken as you ice the cookies and you will need to add another 1/2 teaspoon of boiling water to get the icing back to a spreadable consistency. If the white icing gets too loose, whisk in a teaspoon of confectioner’s sugar.
Decorating the cookies:
There are several ways to decorate the cookies: Divide the icing among three or more bowls and color each with gel food coloring as desired. Spread about 3/4 of a teaspoon on the flat side of each cookie. You can also ice half the cookie with one color and half with another color.
Squeeze some drops of gel coloring onto a paper plate or waxed paper. Have a toothpick ready for each color. Ice about four cookies at a time with white icing. Use toothpicks to place tiny dots or short lines of different colors on the icing and then use a toothpick to create a marbled effect.
Let the cookies set 15 minutes. Store them covered at room temperature for up to three days, or freeze the cookies for up to three months.
Paula Shoyer is the author of the best-selling The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-Free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy, The Holiday Kosher Baker, and The New Passover Menu.
Tips for doughnut-making success
• If the oil is the proper temperature, frying seals the outside layer of the doughnut and prevents the oil from seeping in. If the temperature of the oil is too low, it cannot form an exterior seal, resulting in greasy doughnuts that have absorbed too much oil. If the oil is too hot, the outside will burn before the inside is fully cooked and your doughnuts will be gooey and raw inside. Check the oil temperature between batches and adjust heat if necessary.
• The best oils for frying are canola, safflower, or peanut oils.
• Do not crowd your doughnuts; it causes the oil temperature to drop. Fry no more than six to eight doughnut holes at a time and no more than four or five larger doughnuts in one batch.
• While frying doughnuts, stay put and watch them. They can go from perfect to burnt in moments.
• Use the following equipment: round cookie cutters in different sizes, a rolling pin, a heavy medium saucepan that can hold 1½ inches (4cm) of oil with space for the oil to bubble up, a candy thermometer—there is no way to fry properly without maintaining oil temperature between 365°F and 375°F (185°C and 190°C)—chopsticks or silicone spatula for gently turning the doughnuts, a slotted spoon to lift doughnuts out of the oil, a wire rack, and an aluminum-foil-covered cookie sheet to put under the wire rack.
What’s Happening This Chanukah!!
SATURDAY, DEC. 5
Springfield – Shabbat Shebang Chanukah playgroup for Jewish families, 12:30 – 2 p.m., Springfield JCC, 1160 Dickinson St., (413) 739-4715.
Springfield – SNL Hanukkah for Grades 5-8, drop off tweens to socialize in the game room or play basketball in the gym; 7-10 p.m., Springfield JCC, 1160 Dickinson St., (413) 739-4715, ext 322. $5 J Members; $8 General Public (pay in cash at door)
SUNDAY, DEC. 6
Amherst – Family Chanukah Celebration at Yiddish Book Center, with holiday songs, stories and crafts, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., (guided tours at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) 1021 West St., (413) 256-4900.
Springfield – Aleph Bet Hebrew School children’s menorah workshop, with holiday music and doughnuts, 1-3 p.m., at Lowe’s at 1560 Boston Road, RSVP: (413) 567-8665 or Lkosovsky@LYA.org. FREE & open to the public
Springfield – First Light Communitywide Chanukah Celebration, 3-5:30 p.m., Springfield JCC, 1160 Dickinson St., (413) 739-4715.
Worcester – Central Mass Chabad Menorah-making workshop at Home Depot, 10 a.m. – noon, RSVP: (508) 752-0904.FREE
Worcester – Latkes and Legos at Temple Emanuel Sinai; make latkes and strawberry applesauce to go with them, make Lego menorahs and have candy dreidels, 1 p.m., 661 Sa;lisbury St., RSVP: (508) 755-1257, ext. 104 or firstname.lastname@example.org. $5/person
Worcester – Central Mass Chabad Chanukah Lighting ceremony, 4 p.m., at Newton Square, (508) 752-0904.
MONDAY, DEC. 7
Springfield – Community menorah lighting ceremony, 3:15 p.m., on Court Square with latkes, doughnuts, cocoa and Israeli dreidels. Candle lighting times for the rest of the week are: Tuesday, Dec. 8, Wednesday, Dec. 9 and Thursday, Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m.;Friday, Dec. 11 at 3:30 p.m.; and Saturday, Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m.
TUESDAY, DEC. 8
Longmeadow – Chanukah Babyccino, Young Jewish Families and Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy (LYA) class for babies 0-3 with their moms, featuring art, music, sensory and science, 9:30-10:30 a.m., Agawam Public Library, 750 Cooper St., email@example.com. Co-sponsored by PJ Library and the Jewish Federation of Western Mass.
Longmeadow – LYA PTO Chanukah Dinner with entertainment by Motion Man (pantomime, lyrical movement and more) dinner will include meat and pasta with Chanukah specialties, latkes and doughnuts (vegetarian/vegan option is available upon request); Chanukah menorah lighting and performance by the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy (LYA) Choir, 5:30 p.m., 1148 Converse St. Reserve space by Dec. 4: (413) 567-8665. $9/adults; $5/child; $40/family price (2 adults and 5 children under age 11).
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 9
Holyoke- Holyoke Jewish Seniors Chanukah lunch and musical program with Richard Mitnick and Jessie and Friends, 11 a.m., Congregation Sons of Zion, 378 Maple St., (413) 534-3369.
Springfield – Chanukah Hoops Basketball Tournament, with family basketball activities, contests and competitions, 6 p.m., Springfield JCC, 1160 Dickinson St., (413) 739-4715.
THURSDAY, DEC. 10
DeerfieldSouth Deerfield – Chanukah candle-lighting event at Deerfield Arts Bank, with Rabbi Ben Weiner, with singing and dreidels, bring your own menorah and candles to light (extra menorahs will be available), 3 Sugarloaf St., (413) 665-0123.
Springfield – Bobbie Levin Nifty 90s celebration, honoring 12 guests who are aged 90 and over, with latkes and sufganiyot, entertainment by Frank Jackson, 1:30 p.m., Springfield JCC, 1160 Dickinson St., (413) 739-4715. $6/members; $8/general public; FREE past recipients
DECEMBER 11 – DECEMBER 13
Greenfield – Chanukah Weekend at Temple Israel, Friday, 7 p.m.; Shabbat service and oneg; Saturday at 10 a.m., service, 12:30 lunch and teaching by Rabbi Shefa Gold from 2-3 p.m.; Sunday: 1-4 p.m., “Opening to Miracles,” a workshop led by Rabbi Shefa Gold, 27 Pierce St., (413) 773-5884.
SPRINGFIELD – The Independent City of Homes Associa tion Annual Chanukah Breakfast; all-you-can-eat breakfast, a magi- cian/balloon artist and gifts for the kids, 9 a.m., Springfield Jewish Community Center, 1160 Dickinson St. Send your reservations to firstname.lastname@example.org FREE
FRIDAY, DEC. 11
Springfield – Early Learning Center school-wide Shabbat/Chanukah celebration, 10 a.m., Springfield JCC, 1160 Dickinson St., (413) 739-4715.
Springfield – Mad Science Meets the Maccabees! Chanukah Service and Congregational; service at 6 p.m., with menorah lighting (bring your own menorah and seven candles; dinner at 7 p.m. RSVP by Dec. 4: www.sinai-temple.org or 1100 Dickinson St., Springfield Mass. 01108. $7/adults; $4/children up to 12; $25/Family Package
Springfield – Chanukah Shabbat dinner for all ages, following Shabbat Zimrah (musical Kabbalat Shabbat), food by Meital Catering, Temple Beth El, 979 Dickinson St., For more details & to RSVP by Dec. 4: (413) 733-4149. $15/adults & kids 10 and older; $10/kids 5-9; FREE/kids 4 and under
SATURDAY, DEC. 12
Easthampton – “Spin like a Dreidel” Chanukah Party to benefit Lander-Grinspoon Academy in Northampton, ages 21+, with karaoke, dancing, beer, snacks, silent auction, 7:30-10:30 p.m., Fort Hill Brewery. $36/person (includes 2 free samples of beer, snacks) Babysitting available at LGA, $10/a child: (413) 584-6622
Springfield – J-ART’s Miscast Chanukah Cabaret/ Vodka & Latke Celebration (adults only) 8 p.m., Springfield JCC’s Goldstein Auditorium, Tickets: (413) 739-4715 $15 (includes 1 drink ticket and latke bar trip)* *additional drink/food tickets will be available for purchase.
Worcester – YAD Hanukkah Bash and Latke –Off, 7 p.m., For more information and to RSVP: email@example.com
SUNDAY, DEC. 13
Amherst – Chanukah program at JCA, 10-11:30 a.m., 1st-7th grades; 10:45-11:30 a.m., 0-6 years old; 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., all families, Jewish Community of Amherst, 742 Main St., (413) 256-0160, ext. 203.
Lanesboro – Chanukah Family Festival of the Jewish Berkshires, with public menorah lighting, children’s crafts, live music, latkes, family entertainer, sufganyiot, dreidels, prizes and children’s concert, 4-7 p.m., Berkshire Mall, 8 Old State Road, (413) 499-9899.
Longmeadow – Katz Family Chanukah Breakfast, with Kids’ Choir, paint and glaze your own Judaica, Maccabee mid-winter zip line; and latkes and sufganiyot, 9:30-11 a.m., Congregation B’nai Torah, 2 Eunice Drive, (413) 567-0036 FREE & open to all; pottery items available for discounted purchase
Springfield – 24th Annual Chanukah Road Race, a 5-mile race beginning and ending at the J; 9:30 a.m., Springfield JCC, 1160 Dickinson St., (413) 739-4715. Entry: $25
Worcester – PJ Library and Worcester JCC Chanukah Wrap-Up at the JCC, with music, craft, snack, menorah lighting, and more, 3-4:30 p.m., (Bring a gift to donate to Friendly House kids). For more information and to RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org.