Learn More about Hanukkah Traditions and Food

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

Some people celebrate Christmas, some celebrate Hanukkah and some celebrate both, Chrismukkah. It’s a time of celebration, of family and friends coming together and lots and lots of eating. But what exactly are the hallmark Hanukkah traditions and more importantly, what foods are eaten on this holiday, we take a look…

The History Behind Hanukkah

Hanukkah is an eight-day, “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and exchanging of gifts. Typically falling in early November or late December, marking the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. This eight-day celebration is to commemorate those who were able to fight off the Seleucids.

hanukkahIn the second century BCE, Jerusalem, the Holy Land, was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), they tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs. This, of course, was not something the Jewish people wanted but it seemed like there was not much that could be done, they were poorly armed and outnumbered. Despite these setbacks, a small band of poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies of that time. They were able to drive the Greeks out of Israel and reclaim the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

However, when they sought to light the Temple’s Menorah, they saw that the Greeks had contaminated all of the oil. They were able to find only a single cruse of olive oil and miraculously, they were able to light the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days. To keep alive the memory of these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah.

Hanukkah Traditions

Jews all over the world celebrate Hanukkah by a nightly menorah lighting. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash (‘attendant’), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. Then on the second night, another flame is lit, and so and so forth until the eighth night when all eight lights are lit.


Family and friends gather to rejoice and celebrate many Hanukkah traditions like playing the dreidel game, and telling stories of the Maccabees to children so that they know their history. Kids compete to see who can get the most gelt (chocolate coins) that are reserved for prizes during games, or given as a gift. Another big Hanukkah tradition is gift-giving. On every night of Hanukkah, family members will exchange gifts, leading up to a total of eight gifts once Hannukah is over.

Symbolic Hannukah Foods

The traditional foods that are eaten during Hanukkah are symbolic of why Hanukkah is celebrated. Because of that, most of these foods are deep-fried in oil. There are however other dishes that are eaten during the holiday that are, well, not covered in oil.


HanukkahDon’t be fooled by the Hebrew name, this is just a deep-fried jelly-filled doughnut. It can be filled with different types of fillings such as strawberry jam, blueberry jam, raspberry jam, chocolate custard, lime curd, the options are honestly endless.


Who doesn’t love a potato rosti? That’s pretty much exactly what latkes are. Deliciously fried, shredded potatoes are a huge win for everyone at the Hanukkah table. A fact you might not know is that latkes are commonly served with sides such as applesauce and sour cream.


Little bite-sized fluffy sweet honey balls! Honestly, so delicious. Could eat 10 of these in a row. These little deep-fried balls are traditionally served soaked in hot honey syrup, sprinkled with cinnamon and garnished with toasted sesame seeds and chopped walnuts.


HanukkahBraided bread! Challah or kitka, is usually parve (no dairy —important in the laws of Kashrut), unlike other enriched European breads, which contain milk and/or butter. No Jewish holiday is complete without challah.


A traditional Jewish egg noodle casserole, it’s way more delicious than it sounds, we promise. It’s commonly served as a side dish to the main although this could be a main on its own. Kugel can be transformed from savoury to sweet simply by swapping out the spices and vegetables for sugar and cinnamon.


Like Challah, no Jewish holiday is complete without brisket. It has been eaten by Ashkenazi Jews in Europe for festive occasions such as Hannukah, Rosh Hashanah and Passover, since at least the 1700s. Since this cut of meat is served very tender, it does take a few hours to cook.

Now that you’re all clued up about Hanukkah traditions and the food that is typically eaten, you can wish your Jewish friends a Happy Hannukah and ask nicely for leftovers of brisket and sufganiyot… yum!

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