Here are 8 fun facts you might not know about the holiday
The tradition of giving Hannukah gelt (money) comes from 17th-century Poland. Originally parent gave money to their children to distribute to their teachers. In time, as children demanded their due, money was also given to the children for Hannukah. In the twentieth century this tradition evolved into the delicious custom of giving chocolate gelt which is also typical of Sinterklaas and Christmas.
Dreidl is the iconic game of Hannukah, but only if you are Ashkenazi… Jews from the Muslim world have no tradition of playing such a game. This isn’t surprising as this classic Hanukkah game was inspired by a virtually identical game played by Germans during Christmas, which itself was influenced by a British game called teetotum.
As oil is at the center of the Hannukah celebration it’s not surprising that oily foods are at the center of Hannukah cuisine. Most people have heard of sufganiyot (jelly donuts) or latkes (fried potato pancakes) but there are many other less well known Hannukah delicacies for example Italian and Moroccan Jews enjoy fried chicken and Greek Jews make special fried fish for the occasion, delicious!
The iconic blue Hannukah candle box is almost as recognizable as the chanukiah itself. In fact, there are two companies - Menora Candle Company and Ner Zion Candle Factory both located in Israel and are even older than the state itself. These companies are responsible the for the majority of Hannukah candles sold around the world and guarantee that their candles will burn for at least a half hour as per the religious regulations for lighting the chanukiah.
Sufganiyot (jelly donuts) may be the iconic Hannukah dessert but every Jewish community seems to have their own fried down treat. Of course, the Netherlands has oliebollen, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, Sephardic Jews make zalabia, loukoumades, sfenj, and yoyo – all different types of sugary sweet fried Hannuka treats!
Today many families light multiple chanukiah to ‘celebrate the festival of light.’ However, centuries ago this wasn’t the case. Many Eastern European Jews were too poor to own a chanukiah. Their solution? Take a potato and put nine holes in it, and voila an instant chanukiah. As an added bonus once you are done with your potato chanukiah you can use it to make latkes!
The Hannukah tradition dictates that one should put their chanukiah in the window so that all can bear witness to the miracle of Hannukah. However, some Sephardic Jews light an additional chanukiah in a concealed spot in memory of their converso ancestors and the traditions that allowed them to survive.
For a theatrical end to your Hannukah celebrations, why not try the old Russian Jewish tradition of 'flaming tea' to commemorate the festival of light. Make sure the lights are off and then light up a cube of sugar imbibed with brandy, sitting on a spoon over your teacup. This makes both a delicious end to your Hannukah meal and an improvised chanukiah if you have enough cups!