Hanukkah this year begins in the evening of Thursday, Dec. 10, and ends in the evening of Friday, Dec. 18. With COVID-19 guidelines and safety measures limiting holiday travel and large gatherings, many Jews will celebrate the Festival of Lights with their extended families remotely. But celebrating Hanukkah differently this year doesn’t mean tradition has to be lost. With some creative thinking, families can have a wonderful and joyous occasion throughout the eight nights of the holiday. Below are some ideas we have to help you start planning a safe and family-focused celebration right at home.
Have some fun with food.
Serve up some food-focused fun, like Manetto Hill Jewish Center in Plainview, Long Island, is doing. The temple’s ritual committee is holding a Virtual Hanukkah Cooking and Cocktails event on Sunday, Dec. 13 at 11am. The next day, you can join the temple’s Sisterhood for a Virtual Latke Eating Contest at 6pm (there are contests for adults and kids). You could also host your own latke eating contest, either within your household or over video chat with your extended family!
Get your kids cooking!
Chef and author Lauren Braun Costello says staying home and cooking with the kids is a great way to commemorate the holiday. Her Instagram page (@itslaurenofcourse) is a great resource for cooking ideas parents and kids can do together.
“Hanukkah is about oil and frying. It’s about fried things. People want their favorite takeout from their favorite restaurant,” Costello says. “Now, with the weather getting colder and outdoor eating a bit of a challenge for families, I like making takeout in my home. I love making vegetable tempura with my kids on Hanukkah. It’s a different spin and lots of fun.”
Another idea is to have a food-focused art project to do together. For example, dessert company Sully and Vanilla sells Hanukkah-themed paint-your-own-cookie kits in menorah and dreidel designs. Or make your own kosher gingerbread cookies to decorate.
Potato and spinach croquettes, potato dumplings stuffed with curd cheese and chives, or apple fritters, anyone? Try making these tasty Hanukkah recipes with Russian, Turkish, and Italian roots with your kids.
Stream a Hanukkah service.
A major portion of the Hanukkah rituals takes place in the home, but many Jewish houses of worship are offering virtual services. Central Synagogue in Manhattan streams services online, including Hanukkah services. Temple Emanu-El will hold a special Hanukkah and Shabbat service featuring the premiere of the temple’s Koolulam video, a story told by Rabbi Davidson, and a Zoom candle lighting for members on Friday, Dec. 11 at 6pm.
Host a video chat while opening gifts.
You don’t have to be in the same room with someone to see their face light up when they unwrap your gift. Consider creating a virtual family gift exchange. Send gifts to each other in advance, then plan to open them together via video chat. You can also try scheduling delivery of the gifts for each of the eight nights.
Make some Hanukkah crafts.
Sure, the directions for these crafts aren’t Hanukkah-specific, but your kids can customize their own snow globes, permanent marker mugs, and holiday crackers to be used as Hanukkah (or everyday) decorations. And your family can do a craft for nature while you’re at it by making winter bird feeders for your winged neighbors.
Volunteer with your family.
The holidays are the perfect time to give back, and doing it as a family is even more rewarding. Maybe your family wants to donate to a food drive or food bank. There are plenty of opportunities to give back in the New York area, whether it’s in-person or from the comfort of your home. You can also have your family give back to the first responders and frontline workers of this pandemic by delivering food to hospital workers or writing thank you cards to their teachers.
Participate in a Hanukkah activity in the New York area.
Experience the Jewish festival of lights and learn about Jewish culture at one of the many events or activities in the New York metro area or from the comfort of your home!
However you decide to celebrate, the most important thing to remember is that the holiday doesn’t have to feel distant. The right programs and activities can create memories you’ll cherish forever.
Barbara Russo is a freelance writer who holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from the City University of New York. She enjoys playing guitar, following current events, and hanging out with her pet rabbits.