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6 Hanukkah Traditions, Games and Activities to Know About

Learn the story behind these popular Hanukkah traditions.

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Family near a menorahEnzo [email protected] Ojo Photography/Getty Images

Celebrating Hanukkah

In the United States, Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is one of the most widely known Jewish holidays, even outside of the Jewish community. The eight nights of Hanukkah and Christmas Day are both observed in December. Other than that, the two holidays have nothing in common.

While Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, Hanukkah celebrates another miracle entirely. Hillel International explains that after the Maccabees’ victory over their oppressors, a small amount of oil lasted for eight nights — hence, eight nights of celebration.

Whether you’re already familiar with Hanukkah traditions or you’re learning about them for the first time, here are six of the things that make this winter holiday so special.

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Lighting a menorahRoy Morsch/Getty Images

Lighting Candles

Because of the story of the Maccabees, candles are still a huge Hanukkah tradition today. There are nine candles on a typical Hanukkah menorah. One candle is used to light the other eight — one for each night of Hanukkah.

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Singing a holiday songShestock/Getty Images

Holiday Songs

Songs have always been tools for celebration, so there are plenty of classic Hanukkah songs. There are modern songs, too. You can find playlists online like this one from the Union for Reform Judaism, which features a song by Adam Sandler. Your Ring Video Doorbell can play Hanukkah songs instead of its normal chime during the holidays.

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Dreidelsleah613/Getty Images


Dreidels are a traditional toy given for Hanukkah. They are small spinning tops with Hebrew letters that stand for nes gadol haya sham, which means a great miracle occurred there, according to My Jewish Learning.

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Chocolate coinsVlad Fishman/Getty Images

Chocolate Coins

Foil-wrapped chocolate coins are often given with dreidels for use in the dreidel game. Every family’s version of the dreidel game may vary slightly, but the basic concept is simple. Any number of people can play. Each player needs something to share. Chocolate coins are often used, but it could be another kind of treat.

Each player places one candy into the center of the circle, then they take turns spinning the dreidel. Depending on which side the dreidel lands, you will gain or lose a candy. You might also see these chocolate coins around Easter.

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Sufganiyot and latkesa_namenko/Getty Images

Eating Fried Foods

Fried foods are another way of celebrating the miracle of the oil. Two popular and delicious choices are sufganiyot and latkes. Sufganiyot are small, jelly-filled doughnuts. Latkes are crispy potato pancakes.

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Hanukkah giftsmacniak/Getty Images

Gift Giving

It’s common to exchange gifts during Hanukkah. This tradition of giving also applies to the greater community. Some Jewish families dedicate the sixth night of Hanukkah to charitable giving, calling the sixth candle Ner Shel Tzedakah or the “Candle of Righteousness.” Families make monetary gifts or do good deeds to help locally and globally in honor of the holiday.

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