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Join In on a Different Celebration: The Eight Days of Hanukkah

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is celebrated all over the world in December. If you’re an expat away from home this holiday season, have Jewish friends, or simply want to know more about the festival, here are some ideas of how you can bring some light into your everyday life this Hanukkah.

Though not the most important Jewish religious holiday, Hanukkah is special to many families, coinciding with the Christmas holidays in December. The eight-day festival signifies the Jewish revolt against the Greek-Syrian army in the second century BCE and the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. As the story goes, the Temple’s menorah was lit in honor of the restoration of Jewish worship, and the one-day supply of oil miraculously managed to last for eight days until more oil could be produced.

The message of Hanukkahis that of light over darkness.

Across the world, the festival is observed by those religious as well as secular. Hanukkah is aptly known as the “festival of lights”, since the overarching meaning of Hanukkah is a celebration of the victory of light over darkness. Wherever you are in the world, here are some ways you can incorporate Hanukkah festivities into your chilly December.

Attend a Menorah-Lighting Ceremony

A great way to interact with those observing Hanukkah is to visit a public menorah and watch the nightly lighting of the towering structures. Each night sees one more candle lit until all eight candles are burning by the end of the festival. Cities such as London, with over 250,000 Jews, stand their menorahs outside important buildings and in open spaces for everyone to appreciate — London’s annual ceremony in Trafalgar Square is lit by the London Mayor and attracts thousands of residents.

It is New York, however, who boasts the world’s largest menorah. At 32-foot high (almost ten meters), 4,000 lbs (1814 kg), and made of gold, the menorah is a must-see for expats lucky enough to find themselves in the city that never sleeps! Previous creative menorahs include: an underwater structure in Atlanta, Georgia; a laser beam projection of a menorah in Tel Aviv; and a menorah made entirely from sea shells in South Beach, Miami, Florida. Head out and see whether your city has a public lighting ceremony!

Dance the Night Away

Jewish communities love to celebrate the religious festival with a great party. Hanukkah is often celebrated as a secular tradition and is a perfect chance to get together with other expats — invite your nearest and dearest over and enjoy the food, music, and variety of culture. All around the world, you can find people celebrating Hanukkah, including Australia, where large street parties are held because the festival is during the Southern hemisphere’s summer.

If you’re an expat in Budapest, the city’s Orthodox Jewish community have an annual festival to commemorate Hanukkah — Quarter6Quarter7 (traditionally Jewish neighborhoods) — where concerts, performances, and different events are held around the city’s sixth and seventh districts. By far the highlight of the festival has to be the dancing in the streets on the first night of Hanukkah — join in for a dance or two to get the completely immersive experience.

Try Your Hand at Traditional Fried Food

As an ode to the miracle of the oil in the original Hanukkah story, it’s important to eat foods that have been cooked in oil. The delicious latke (potato-cake fried in olive oil) is a staple dish on Jewish dining tables during Hanukkah, along with sufganiyah (jelly- or cream-filled doughnuts). Feel free to put your own twist on them and modify these traditional foods with local ingredients from your region. One Jewish community in Santa Marta, Columbia, has been cooking up their own interpretation of latkes with the readily available plantain fruit. If you’re tight for time, though, we all know that eating is just as fun as cooking food! You might want to find some traditional Jewish eateries and try out some new fried dishes, cooked by the experts. In the globally recognized home of pastries the kosher bakeries are legendary — head to Paris’ 19th or 20th districts for some classic Hanukkah goods.

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