Perspectives: 10 Parents on How Their Family Celebrates Hanukkah

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Christian Alzate / Verywell

For our Perspectives series, we are interviewing diverse families from around the country on how they’re celebrating Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is the eight-day celebration honoring the rededication of the Holy Temple. The name of the holiday appropriately means "dedication" in Hebrew, lest you ever forget why it's celebrated. It's typically marked by the lighting of a menorah, reciting of blessings, nightly gift-giving, and delicious fried foods (hello, latkes!).

The Festival of Lights is a joyous holiday celebrating miracles, and it's the perfect occasion to connect with family and friends over time-honored traditions. We asked 10 families to tell us how they celebrate Hanukkah with loved ones, and their shares are as heartwarming as the holiday itself.

Melissa Rosenfield

family of 3

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Melissa Rosenfield

  • Partner's name: Robert
  • Location: Brooklyn, NY
  • Occupation: Founder of IFP Communications
  • Kid's age: 2

What Is Your Family's Favorite Hanukkah Tradition?

Our family's favorite tradition is hosting a huge latke party for all of our friends and family. The party is for everyone; you don't have to be Jewish. We do it because we love to share the holiday, traditions, and food with everyone who wants to join.

I start cooking the day before to get my secret latke recipe ready for frying on the day of the party. At the party, the whole apartment smells like latkes because I have multiple burners going with oil to fry them. We have a make your own latke bar that includes all the traditional accoutrements, including applesauce and sour cream. But we also add things like caviar, smoked salmon, sometimes pulled beef (so we can have a variation on Mofongo because my partner is Puerto Rican) and more. It's a time to celebrate and share with everyone we love. 

How Did This Tradition Get Started?

We started the tradition about eight years ago when it was just the immediate family (which is about 15-20 people) and then a few friends would find their way. My aunt always asks me to make the latkes because my family loves my recipe and they would ask me to make extra for a few days after. There was always a lot of food.

Then more people started coming or bringing friends, partners, kids, or family members of their own. Pre-COVID, the party could have up to 60 people throughout the night, and sometimes we wouldn't even know who was coming. Now with vaccines, we're hoping to bring it back to a degree.

What's Most Special to Your Family About the Holiday?

The most special part is sharing the holiday with friends and family who didn't grow up with the tradition and now have one. We love spending the holidays with everyone. Even in the pandemic, I made extra latkes and dropped them at people's houses so they could celebrate with us over Zoom. At the end of the day, being able to welcome people into our home and spend time with them makes it most special.

Rabbi Mark Baker

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Christian Alzate / Verywell

Rabbi Mark Baker

What Is Your Family's Favorite Hanukkah Tradition?

My family’s favorite Hanukkah tradition is our extensive, round-robin dreidel tournament. Everyone in the family gets to play; it’s hours of dreidel, grandparents playing with grandchildren, cousins playing with aunts and uncles. There’s a great amount of suspense and excitement and we're very diligent in our scoring. We have a huge bag of dreidels and sometimes we’ve been known to ban ones that are “rigged.”

How Did This Tradition Get Started?

We started the tradition when my wife and I realized that we could channel our children’s, and our own, competitiveness into Hanukkah fun! During occasions when we’ve been together with our extended family and had to get creative to find activities that could bring together younger and older kids, we started these tournaments as a fun way to engage them.

What's Most Special to Your Family About the Holiday?

What’s most special to our family about the holiday is gathering around our six menorahs (we each light our own) with our candles burning in the window of our living room. We know that by lighting these candles we’re proudly sharing our family’s Jewish story with our neighbors and the world.

I get to watch my children recite Hebrew blessings that have been recited for thousands of years, at the same time lighting candles using fun, contemporary menorahs. It’s a beautiful blending of old and new traditions. It’s a powerful moment when time stands still, even for a few minutes.

I have four children, and like many families, my kids have school and practices. Sometimes we’re not all together until later in the evening. This tradition takes the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and gives us a powerful family ritual, even during the middle of busy weeknights.

Ali Wolf

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Christian Alzate / Verywell

Ali Wolf

What Is Your Family's Favorite Hanukkah Tradition?

Aside from the typical latkes, candles, and songs, my family's favorite Hanukkah tradition is a gift exchange with our extended family. As our family has grown, this is a special way to get thoughtful gifts for each and every person, without having to stress over buying for everyone. My mom randomly assigns the gift-givers and receivers, then we come together to exchange.

How Did This Tradition Get Started?

This started a few years ago as a fun way to remove the pressure of each family member having to buy gifts for each grandparent, sibling, and child in our growing family. It's become a fun activity that we look forward to! The fun part is having each person guess who got their present. We started this years ago, but because of the pandemic last year, it was virtual. It worked great and provided a sense of comfort and togetherness during a difficult time.

What's Most Special to Your Family About the Holiday?

This is special to my family because giving gifts isn't about purchasing material goods, it's about thinking about your loved one and choosing something personal that will bring joy or provide value. Removing the burden of buying for each person allows us to focus on making one person happy!

Leah Witman Moore

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Leah Witman Moore

  • Age: 40
  • Partner's name: Zachary 
  • Location: Westchester NY
  • Occupation: High School English and theater teacher 
  • Kids' ages: 10, 6, and 6

What Is Your Family's Favorite Hanukkah Tradition?

My family plays "Hot and Cold" to find our presents. I have been playing since the 80s in New Jersey with my sister and my parents. We would give one another clues then run through the house shouting the appropriate temperature to determine how close we were to finding our present.

When we found the item, we would celebrate and move on to the next family member. It was something we did every night. In my house growing up, it was important that Hanukkah wasn't only about the discovery at the end, but how we spent our time together as a family.

How Did This Tradition Get Started?

It happened naturally one year. My sister and I were used to searching for Afikomen from Passover so it felt logical to just keep searching. Now, as a parent in an interfaith marriage with three small children, this is a tradition we have continued. This has become even more special for my family because my husband and I are raising a child with significant disabilities due to a rare chromosomal deletion, cri du chat.

What's Most Special to Your Family About the Holiday?

In regards to our tradition, for many years, it was my daughter's goal to focus on one-step directions. We wanted to increase her receptive language, even when she was unable to speak. Therefore, we could say, "Go look behind the chair." It would take her several minutes to move a few inches across the room. But when she got there and was able to discover a wrapped gift, we were not just celebrating the holiday, but how beautifully her language developed. We look forward to playing this game every year and can clearly track her progress.

Mindie Barnett

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Mindie Barnett

  • Age: 47
  • Location: New York
  • Occupation: CEO and founder of her own PR firm
  • Kids' ages: 13, 10

What Is Your Family's Favorite Hanukkah Tradition?

Our family tradition is making latkes. My Mom-Mom used to do that when I was a little girl, then my mom, and now me and my kids. We traditionally do that on the first night and have a full dinner complete with matzoh ball soup, chicken, apple sauce, and challah!

How Did This Tradition Get Started?

It all goes back to my Mom-Mom. I can so clearly remember her teaching me how to make latkes while we sang Hanukkah songs on the eve of the first night. It always felt very special to do this together as a little girl and I'm so happy that I get to continue the tradition with my kids. I really hope they'll continue it with their own families.

What's Most Special to Your Family About the Holiday?

I love the holiday because it forces us to slow down, put away our tech, and just enjoy one another’s company. Being present with one another and finding the joy in simple pleasures, lighting the candles, looking at holiday lights, watching holiday movies, and unplugging. We're all so busy, so having a reason to take a moment as a family is something I really appreciate.

Meridith Daniel

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Meridith Daniel

  • Age: 44
  • Partner's name: Jason
  • Location: Mullica Hill, NJ
  • Occupation: Stay at Home Mom
  • Kids' ages: 16, 12

What Is Your Family's Favorite Hanukkah Tradition?

When my husband and I moved into our first house, we didn’t have Hanukkah prayers so we went on the internet to find ones that would work for us (we're an interfaith family). We found a website online run by a family named The Golds. They totally came through! We have no clue who they are but we loved their translation of the prayers so much that we’ve used it for the past 18 years! I love that these are the prayers our kids also follow.

How Did This Tradition Get Started?

Mostly being ill-prepared, which is so unlike us! I'm a planner and usually pretty organized. But when Hanukkah rolled around that year and we didn't have prayers or blessings to recite, I panicked. It's cases like this where the Internet can be a wonderful thing. This time not being on top of holiday planning worked out to our advantage.

What's Most Special to Your Family About the Holiday?

There’s something special about saying the same words year after year. We usually FaceTime with my parents, who moved to Florida many years ago. We do this a few nights out of the eight so they’re a part of the celebration, too! We miss them so much so it's nice that we're able to feel like we're together, even when we're not physically in the same room.

Erica Burg

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Erica Burg

  • Age: 46
  • Partner's name: Chuck
  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA
  • Occupation: Senior Sales Analyst
  • Kids' ages: 18, 16

What Is Your Family's Favorite Hanukkah Tradition?

My husband is Catholic so the most fun and biggest tradition (although stopped due to COVID-19) was we had a big Chrismukkah party at our house with friends and family. Where we live in Pittsburgh my kids school had about three kids out of 600 in each grade that were Jewish. At the party we taught friends how to play the dreidel game. I would make kugel and latkes.

How Did This Tradition Get Started?

When they were young I used to go to their school around the holidays to read a Hanukkah book and teach the class how to play dreidel. The Chrismukkah party sort of became an extension of that initial activity of reading to the kids' classes. It's a nice way to share a part of our holiday and culture that other people might not be familiar with or know about.

What's Most Special to Your Family About the Holiday?

It's really about keeping up the traditions. My daughter is at college in Nebraska. She's looking forward to an electric menorah this year (no candles are allowed in the dorms) and teaching her roommates about Hanukkah. She'll bring them up to speed on the dreidel game as I used to with her class when she was younger. We light the menorah every night with one present each night, as most do, and I will be sending a care package to my daughter this year so she can open one a night via FaceTime.

Lisa Barnett

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Christian Alzate / Verywell

Lisa Barnett

  • Age: 32
  • Location: New York
  • Occupation: Co-founder & President, Little Spoon
  • Kids' ages: 6 weeks, 3, 6 (nieces)

What Is Your Family's Favorite Hanukkah Tradition?

My sister and I grew up in a Jewish household, but our family has always been very inclusive of many traditions in our celebrations. For Hanukkah, we’ll have a daily family FaceTime where my nieces take turns lighting the candles and saying the prayers. Every night, we’ll take turns sharing a ‘verbal gift’ for someone else in our lives—a hope for or wish we have for loved ones, perfect strangers, the country, or the world. It’s a little way we can impart on the girls a sense of gratitude for the fortune they have, especially relevant after eight nights of gift-getting!

How Did This Tradition Get Started?

When my first niece was born I was based on the West Coast starting Little Spoon. I am very close with my sister (she’s my best friend!) so we worked out a new tradition to be able to celebrate the holidays together as a growing family. The agreement was a nightly FaceTime ritual, which has really come in handy during these quarantine holidays! We’ve already had such great practice.

What's Most Special to Your Family About the Holiday?

What is most special to my family is the opportunity to teach the girls about their background and the shared traditions that my sister and I (their mom and aunt) have practiced through the years together. They love imagining that their mom and I were doing the exact same thing (no FaceTime in the nineties, but c'est la vie!) and they take the experience seriously to carry on traditions. I love seeing their focus as they light the candles and practice the same rituals that have been a part of my life all these years.

Meredith Tiger

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Christian Alzate / Verywell

Meredith Tiger

  • Age: 43
  • Partner's name: Jeff
  • Location: Springfield, NJ
  • Occupation: Corporate Communications Director
  • Kids' ages: 15, 11

What Is Your Family's Favorite Hanukkah Tradition?

Our favorite thing is celebrating with our extended families at Hanukkah parties over the eight nights of the holiday. We play dreidel and my aunt tells the story of how Hanukkah started, which I remember her doing when I was a kid. I have so many great memories of these parties from childhood and I love that we are continuing them with the next generation. Getting together with the cousins and watching all of the kids hang out is the best.

How Did This Tradition Get Started?

We’ve been celebrating with extended family since I was little. Each year it gets bigger and bigger, either because more family friends are invited or as there are more kids in the mix. We haven’t been able to do our annual parties in a long time because of COVID-19. Now that vaccines are available for almost everyone, we hope to bring back these traditions this year.

What's Most Special to Your Family About This Holiday?

I know I'm being repetitive, but it's really all about family. That's what makes Hanukkah so special. Catching up with family we don't see all of the time and continuing traditions that were established decades ago is what makes it great. I've always tried to instill the importance of family in my kids, the same way my parents did for me. Nothing makes me happier than seeing them enjoying time with their relatives.

Cheryl Crosby

mom and girls making dough

Christian Alzate / Verywell

Cheryl Crosby

  • Age: 45
  • Partner's name: Paul
  • Location: Medfield, MA
  • Occupation: Creative Director
  • Kids' ages: 12, 15

What Is Your Family's Favorite Hanukkah Tradition?

My daughters and I bake cookies each day of Hanukkah. We alternate between favorite cookie recipes, new ones we are eager to try, and quick and easy cookie recipes for homework-filled school nights. We give some cookies a way as gifts and gobble up the rest. 

How Did This Tradition Get Started?

I wanted to teach my girls how to bake and thought it would be a fun way for them to celebrate the holiday. So when they were 2 and 4 years old, I took out my rolling pins and let them make a baking mess in the kitchen. Our tradition was born! We look forward to spending that time in the kitchen together each year, while my husband looks forward to eating all of our creations.

What's Most Special to Your Family About This Holiday?

For us, it’s not just about receiving presents, it’s also a reminder to give back to our community. So for two nights of Hanukkah, instead of receiving gifts, my girls pick their favorite charities and we make a donation to them. They get to select the items that are needed and we bring it to that charity during Hanukkah. I think they look forward to this more than the presents they receive.

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  1. Ashton D. Hanukkah in America: A History. New York University Press; 2013. doi:10.18574/9781479819713