Authentic Celebrations: Hanukkah

I have a passion about traditions and celebrations from different cultures around the world. I was lucky to live in 6 different countries so far and I feel grateful that these experiences enabled me to discover new festivals. I have written on this blog about some that we have adopted into our family like The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, Martinmas, Advent, Spring Celebrations in our multicultural family… But there are so many others that I would like to know more about.

I want to share with you the beauty and the diversity of celebrations from different cultures around the world and about how families mindfully celebrate them. You might find inspiration in the way of preparing and authentically celebrating these festivals. Beyond rituals and traditions there are values.

Today let’s learn more about Hannukkah, who starts this year on the evening of the 2nd of December.

I have interviewed Caroline who is Jew and lives in Paris, France with her husband and their 3 children. They have just returned to France after living 4 years in Hong Kong.

Photo: Caroline

Photo: Caroline

  • Caroline, what does Hanukkah symbolize and what does it mean for your family?

Hanukkah tells the story of the Maccabi brothers who  saved the Jewish people from assimilation. The Greek wanted to forbid Jews to follow the Jewish Law, from praying to studying, teaching. 

Jews rebelled and fought back and eventually freed the Temple from Greek presence. They found a small jug of oil that eventually burned for 8 days. 

To remind us of this miracle, we light candles every night for 8 days.   

For our family Hanukkah is a great opportunity to remember some of the key messages: never be afraid to stand up for what feels right to you, become kinder every day, don't feel ashamed to express mitzvahs (kindness, generosity, empathy), even if you will feel different than others…

  • What values you want to role model and hope to pass on to your children by celebrating this tradition?

Hanukkah is a moment of family celebration focusing on the key role of education. Educating children, bringing the light ie. the knowledge, will benefit to the world. We celebrate the victory of « light » over darkness, as Hanukkah conveys a message of hope, that no matter what, there is way to achieve, to gain even when things look really bad.

  • How and what do you prepare in advance? (decoration, food, discussions with your children...) 

Decoration is not key for this festival, the main focus is the hanoukkia (Candlelights), that is lightened every day during 8 nights near the window.

Food wise ... to highlight the miracle of oil jug, we eat a lot of fried dishes like donuts, latkes (shredded potatoes pancakes then fried).

Photo: Caroline

Photo: Caroline

  • Do you have a simple recipe to share? 

 Latkes ! 

  • Grate potatoes, wash them, drain in a colander then squeeze out any excess water in a clean towel. 

  • Add one beaten egg and pinch of salt

  • Mix well and form small patties that you will fry in oil. 

I like to serve them as dessert with granulated sugar but it can be served a side dish as well.

  • What rituals you have in your family to celebrate Hanukkah? How do you celebrate it? How are children involved?

Every night we light candles, starting with one then adding an extra one every night until the 8th eve. After the blessing on the candle lighting, we can sing all together. It is actually quite short but it always a great opportunity to gather with family and friends and eat!

There is a tradition to offer presents to our children but this is probably due to Christian influence. The original idea was to congratulate the children with a coin. Children are involved during the celebration as they can light their own hanoukkia, and they play some iconic games like spinning dreidels.

  • You have lived in Hong Kong for 4 years? What was different when celebrating Hanukkah abroad? 

Jewish life in Hong Kong is very rich and active , the community was created more than 150 years ago by Iraki Jews and has grown since then. Celebrating Jewish festivals abroad is actually not different from our home country considering the Jewish traditions are the same all over the world. 

The real difference lies in the expat condition : you can’t celebrate with your family.

Photo: Caroline

Photo: Caroline

  • How do you want your children to remember Hanukkah when they will grow up?

I wish my children to keep up with the traditions as it is not a celebration only for children but a celebration that involve everyone within the community. 

Thank you, Caroline for opening the doors of your home and sharing with us the meaning and the values of Hanukkah.

I have tried Caroline’s recipe for Latkes this week-end and they are a hit! They are definitely in our Family Cooking book now. They are very easy to make with a child. We used 1 kilo of potatoes and 2 eggs. My daughter grated some of the potatoes (1 kilo was too much work for her soI have grated some too). She broke 2 eggs (that’s something she loves doing). We mixed everything and made small patties of around 6cm diameter. We have added paprika on top. We cooked them in the oven on baking paper coated with olive oil. We cooked them at 200°C for around 15 minutes on each side.

And here are our Latkes! We will definitely make them again during Hannukah and even if we don’t celebrate this festival, think about all the families around the world who do celebrate it.