Hanukkah traditions from around the world

Hanukkah is upon us! Time to dust off the menorah and eat our body weight in latkes! Though there are more things to associate with Hanukkah than these two things; here are some Hanukkah traditions from around the world.

Photo via Pixabay


Coconut oil

In India, wicks are dipped in coconut oil to light the menorah with, in place of candles, which is a similar practice for those in the country celebrating another light festival—Diwali. Though for Jewish people living in India, the practice of coconut oil over candle heralds from the story of Hanukkah itself. When the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by Antiochus Epiphanes, worship was forbidden in the city. The temple was won back, but there was only enough oil left to last one day. By miracle, that oil lasted eight days, giving ample time for more oil to be prepared. This history is where the Hanukkah celebration comes from—and why those celebrating in India choose to remember that long-lasting oil by using coconut oil dipped wicks!  



Who doesn’t love an excuse for chocolate? And who doesn’t love chocolate in the form of golden coins? Gelt — meaning Hanukkah money — are small discs of chocolate covered in golden foil with a menorah embossed in that are given either once during the Hanukkah period, or every day — we like the every day approach ourselves, but then we are chocaholics. Gelt has been given to children as well as adults since sometime during the 17th-century when traditionally money was given to teachers by thankful students. These days gelt is given to children for betting with while playing dreidel — or just because; who doesn’t want chocolate?


Photo via Flickr



Okay, yes, menorahs are an integral part of Hanukkah celebrations, but they are displayed in different ways around the world. In Alsace, France, menorahs have two rows of candles, in order for fathers and sons to be able to light the candles together. In Jerusalem, there are special spaces cut into buildings to display the menorah on for public viewing, while in places like Morocco and Algeria, menorahs are hung on hooks on the side of the door opposite the mezuzah (a sacred parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah).


Celebrating women

For Jewish people celebrating Hanukkah in Yemenite and communities in North Africa, the seventh night of Hanukkah is all about the women. This is to commemorate Hannah, who sacrificed her seven sons instead of giving in to Greek pressure to abandon Judaism, and Judith, whose seduction and then assassination of General Holofernes led to Jewish military victory. For Hanukkah in these above regions, the seventh day is a day of rest for women, as it should be!


Sfenj doughnuts

Throughout the Hanukkah-celebrating world, fried goods form a key part of the celebrations. For most, this involves things like the moorish latke potato-cake, and jam-filled doughnuts. In Morocco, they like to do things differently! In place of jam doughnuts, Moroccon Jews eat sfenj doughnuts, which are made with the juice and zest of oranges. This is because Jaffa oranges in the region come into season just in time for the Hanukkah holidays. Honestly, we’ll take any doughnuts, but these sfenj doughnuts are particularly good!


Other Jewish food

So while we’re on the subject of alternate Hanukkah food, here are some differences to the typical Hanukkah food you already know. In Italy, they make Precipizi, which are a sort of round doughnut that is lightly sweetened, infused with olive oil, and drizzled in honey. And in Columbia, in place of latkes are Patacones, which are slices of plantain fried in oil. We don’t know about you, but we are hungry now!


Photo via Pixabay


Ocho Kandelikas

Finally, we have a musical celebration of Hanukkah. Ocho Kendlikas — or eight little candles — is a traditional Hanukkah song that is sung to encapsulate the joy of children lighting the menorah. Traditionally, Ocho Kendilkas is sung in an old Spanish-derived language, though there are many translations and versions throughout the world. Here is a version sung by Idina Menzel.

Happy Hanukkah to all who are celebrating! Whether you want some help with your Hebrew or have been inspired by these glimpses around the world to learn other languages for travel, we are here to help. Our tailormade courses can fit your schedule whatever your needs. Drop us a quick enquiry to see how it works!

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