Hanukkah is an enchanting and joyous occasion when Jewish communities gather to celebrate the Festival of Lights. This eight-day holiday is steeped in custom and tradition, with activities such as lighting the menorah, playing with dreidels, and indulging in scrumptious dishes. In this blog post, we will explore some of the most popular Hanukkah traditions and food ideas you can serve your loved ones. And don’t forget, you still have time to place your Hanukkah order with Catering by Michaels (more on that later!)
But First, Some History
Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek oppressors and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The events that inspired the holiday took place during a turbulent phase of Jewish history, around 200 B.C., when Judea, also known as the Land of Israel, came under the control of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria.
Antiochus III allowed the Jews to continue practicing their religion, but his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who succeeded him in 175 B.C., was less tolerant. He outlawed the Jewish religion, ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods, and desecrated the Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.
In 168 B.C., a Jewish priest named Mattathias and his five sons led a rebellion against Antiochus and the Seleucid monarchy. They were known as the Maccabees, which means “hammers” in Hebrew, because of their fierce fighting skills. They used guerrilla warfare tactics to defeat the Syrian army and recaptured Jerusalem in 164 B.C. They then cleansed the Temple, rebuilt its altar, and lit its menorah, a gold candelabrum with seven branches representing knowledge and creation.
According to the Talmud, one of the most central texts of Judaism, the Maccabees and the other Jews who took part in the rededication of the Temple witnessed a miracle. Even though there was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a fresh supply.
This miraculous event inspired the Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival, starting on the 25th of Kislev, the month the miracle occurred.
Hanukkah Traditions: Lighting the Menorah
Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, is also known as the Festival of Lights because of the central role of the menorah and the candles. On each night of Hanukkah, a new candle is added to the menorah after sundown, and a blessing is recited.
The first candle is placed on the far right of the menorah, and the subsequent ones are added to the left of the previous ones, but they are lit from left to right so that the newest candle is always lit first. The ninth candle, called the shamash, or “helper,” is used to light the other candles and is usually placed in the center or above the rest.
Hanukkah Traditions: Dreidel
Hanukkah is a joyous occasion that involves lighting candles, playing games, exchanging gifts, and eating delicious food. One of the most popular games is dreidel, a spinning top with four Hebrew letters on its sides: nun, gimel, hei, and shin. These letters stand for the phrase “nes gadol haha sham,” which means “a great miracle happened there.”
The game is played with coins, nuts, chocolate, or other small items, and each player takes turns spinning the dreidel and following the instructions based on the letter that it lands on. Nun means “nothing,” so the player does nothing; gimbal means “all,” so the player takes everything in the pot; he means “half,” so the player takes half of the pot; and shin means “put in,” so the player adds to the pot.
Hanukkah Traditions: Food
Another essential aspect of Hanukkah is the food, which reflects the theme of oil and the holiday’s miracle. Fried foods, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), are traditional Hanukkah treats because they are cooked in oil and remind us of the miracle of the menorah. Dairy foods, such as cheese and blintzes, are also associated with Hanukkah because of the story of Judith, a Jewish heroine who saved her people by seducing and killing an enemy general with cheese and wine. Other Hanukkah foods include brisket, Kugel, Challah, and Matzo Ball Soup.
- Latkes. Latkes are an iconic Hanukkah dish that has been savored for generations. These potato pancakes are made with grated potatoes, onions, eggs, flour, and oil. The mixture is blended until smooth, shaped into small patties, and fried until golden and crispy. Latkes are typically served with sour cream or applesauce, and sometimes adorned with smoked salmon or other savory toppings. They are a simple yet flavorful dish that will leave you wanting more.
- Sufganiyot. Sufganiyot, or jelly donuts, are a sweet and delectable Hanukkah treat beloved by many. These deep-fried donuts are typically filled with jelly or custard and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Sufganiyot are a delightful way to end a Hanukkah meal or to savor as a special snack during the holiday.
- Brisket. Brisket is a slow-cooked beef dish that is a staple of Hanukkah celebrations. It is typically seasoned with a blend of spices and herbs before being slow-cooked in the oven or on the stovetop. Brisket is a juicy and succulent dish that pairs well with various sides, such as roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, or latkes. It is ideal for a festive Hanukkah dinner and will tantalize your taste buds.
- Kugel. Kugel is a baked casserole dish that can be made sweet or savory. It typically consists of noodles, potatoes, or vegetables mixed with eggs, sugar, and other ingredients, such as cheese or cinnamon. Kugel is a versatile dish that can be served as a side dish or a main course. It is perfect for feeding a crowd and can be prepared ahead of time and then reheated before serving. Kugel is a comforting and hearty dish that is sure to please.
- Challah. Challah is a braided bread that is a staple of Jewish cuisine. It is typically made with flour, water, eggs, yeast, and sugar and can be flavored with spices or other ingredients. Challah is a fluffy and moist bread perfect for soaking up gravy or dipping in oil. It is often served at Hanukkah dinners and other Jewish holidays. Challah is a delicious and satisfying bread that will complement any Hanukkah meal.
- Matzo Ball Soup. Matzo ball soup is a comforting and nourishing dish that is a must-have during Hanukkah. This soup is made with chicken broth, vegetables, and matzo balls. Matzo balls are made with matzo meal, eggs, oil, and seasonings. They are boiled in the soup until they are light and fluffy. Matzo ball soup is a great way to start a Hanukkah meal or to enjoy as a light lunch or dinner during the holiday. It is a satisfying soup that will warm your heart and your soul.
Catering By Michaels Knows Hanukkah
Since 1980, Catering by Michaels has been a staple for Hanukkah catering. We have a dedicated Hanukkah menu that includes both traditional and modern favorites. From small group packages to complete holiday dinner packages, our curated menu will save you time and frustration. We also offer a wide variety of a la carte appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts to delight you and your guests. No matter your preference, we are sure you will be able to find the perfect meal for you and your family.
Hanukkah Deadlines & Important Times
Hanukkah begins at sundown on Thursday, December 7th, and continues until sundown on Friday, December 15th. Please place your order at least five days before the date of your function. Orders placed with less than five days’ notice will be accepted on a limited basis, subject to availability. Advance orders are given priority. Because of delivery schedules that fill quickly, we recommend that you place your order as early as possible to ensure your choice of delivery time.
How To Order
We are here to help you craft the perfect Hanukkah celebration. You can place your order online by visiting CATERINGBYMICHAELS.COM/ORDERCATERING. You can also contact us via email at EVENTS@CATERINGBYMICHAELS.COM.
If you’d like to speak with an event coordinator to receive personalized guidance on your Hanukkah selections, you can reach us at (847) 966-6555.
From Our Family To Yours
Hanukkah is a festive and fun holiday that celebrates the miracle of the oil and the triumph of the Jewish people. It is a time to remember the past, appreciate the present, and hope for the future. By learning more about the history and traditions of Hanukkah—and by sharing meals—you can enjoy a meaningful and memorable holiday with your family and friends.
We wish you a Happy Hanukkah!