Unique Hanukkah Traditions

by Lauren Redfern

The evening of December 12 marked the start of Hanukkah for those of Jewish culture. The Jewish holiday lasts for 8 days and nights. Also known as the Festival of Lights, the ancient story goes like this: after a group of Jews took back the temple, they found only enough oil there to light the temple for one night. Miraculously, the oil kept the temple lit for eight nights in a row. Since then, Jews have commemorated this miracle by lighting a single candle on the menorah on the first night of Hanukkah, then two on the second night, and so on, until all eight candles symbolizing the eight nights in the temple are lit by the end of the holiday.

Once a relatively minor celebration on the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah became more widely honored in the 20th century, with menorahs lit in Jewish homes and lighting ceremonies in many cities and towns. Like most holidays, the week involves special foods, prayers, traditional songs, and games with a four-sided top known as a dreidel. Yet also like other holidays, how Hanukkah is observed varies, with different cultures putting their own unique spin on things. Here’s a look at some of the ways Jews around the world celebrate through food:

Eastern Europe

Jewish people  in Eastern European countries celebrate the holiday by eating latkes—oil-fried potato pancakes.


Indians of Jewish heritage light their menorahs with wicks that have been dipped in coconut oil rather than candles, a different way to honor the miracle of the oil. Also in India, some Jews replace latkes with a food called burfi, a confection made with condensed milk and sugar.

Yemen/ North Africa

For the Jewish communities of Yemen and North African countries like Algeria, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco, the seventh day of Hanukkah is all about celebrating the heroines of the story.  These communities mark the 7th night of Hanukkah as the beginning of Chag Ha’Banot, the Daughters Festival, and celebrate the heroines of the story, Hannah and Judith, both of whom fought against oppression to maintain their Jewish culture and save the Jewish people from the Assyrians.


In Israel, Jews feast on round jelly donuts called sufganiyot. Like latkes, sufganiyot are fried in oil. The oil symbolizes the small amount of oil the ancient Jews had with them to light their temple, which lasted eight days.


In Istanbul, Jews sing a song commemorating the eight menorah candles called “Ocho Candelas,” and eat oil-fried fritters known as  burmelos.


Jews in Morocco also celebrate by enjoying fried jelly donuts. But their version is called Sfenj, and is made with the juice and zest of an orange.


Italian Jews share recipes for a lightly sweetened, olive oil infused, honey-covered treat called precipizi, which originated in Turin.


In Santa Marta, Colombian Jews began their own traditional dish as an alternative to eating fried potato latkes called patacones, which involves plantain slices fried in oil.


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