Celebrating Hanukkah in a Blended Household: Traditions & A Tasty Cookie Recipe

With Hanukkah just around the corner, we thought it would be the perfect time to share some of our cherished Hanukkah traditions! In today's multicultural world, many households find themselves blending traditions from different backgrounds. In our home, we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, embracing the beautiful diversity of our family's heritage. While our Hanukkah traditions may not be universally observed, they hold a special place in our hearts and create a unique holiday season for us. Join us as we share some of our cherished Hanukkah traditions, along with a couple of our favorite recipes and products that enhance our celebrations. To begin, let's explore the historical significance of Hanukkah.

The History of Hanukkah

Hanukkah, often referred to as the Festival of Lights, commemorates a significant historical event in Jewish history. It dates back to the second century BCE when the land of Judea was under the rule of the Seleucid Empire. At that time, King Antiochus IV attempted to suppress Jewish religious practices and impose Hellenistic culture upon the Jewish people.

 

The spark that ignited the Hanukkah story was the Maccabean Revolt, led by a small group of Jewish rebels known as the Maccabees. These brave individuals fought to reclaim the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated by the Seleucid ruler. Upon their victory and the liberation of the temple, they sought to rededicate it, a ceremony that involved lighting the temple's menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum.

 

However, there was a problem: they found only a single cruse of pure olive oil, enough to light the menorah for just one day. Yet, miraculously, that small amount of oil burned for eight consecutive days, allowing them to consecrate the temple properly. This miraculous event, known as the miracle of the oil, is the foundation of the Hanukkah celebration. The eight-day festival symbolizes the miracle and serves as a reminder of the resilience of the Jewish people in the face of adversity.

Lighting the Menorah

The menorah, a symbol of light and hope, takes center stage during our Hanukkah celebrations. Each evening, we gather together to light the candles on the menorah, adding one more each night until all eight are ablaze. This tradition is a reminder of the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days in the ancient Temple, and it's a beautiful moment of reflection for our family. We  say the blessings in both Hebrew and English each night, and follow it with an exchange of meaningful thoughts as we light the candles.

Playing Dreidel

Dreidel is a classic Hanukkah game that brings fun and excitement to our celebrations. We sit around the table, take turns spinning the dreidel, and enjoy the challenge of winning or losing chocolate coins or gelt. It's a delightful tradition that adds an element of competition to the festivities.


Dreidel is a traditional Hanukkah game played with a spinning top. The rules are simple:

  • Each player starts with an equal number of game pieces (usually chocolate coins or gelt).
  • A round typically begins with each player placing a game piece into the pot. This initial pot is used as the central prize pool for that round. 
  • Players take turns spinning the dreidel. The dreidel has four sides, each marked with a Hebrew letter: 

    Nun (נ) - "no action" - the player does nothing.
    Gimel (ג) - "get" - the player takes all the game pieces from the pot.
    Hey (ה) - "half" - the player takes half of the game pieces from the pot.

    Shin (ש) - "put in" - the player adds one game piece to the pot.

  • When the pot is empty, or if a player has no game pieces left, they're out of the game.
  • The game continues until one player has collected all the game pieces.

Dreidel is a fun and often competitive game that adds an extra layer of enjoyment to Hanukkah celebrations.

Hanukkah-Christmas Decor Fusion

In our blended household, we have a unique tradition of incorporating Hanukkah decor into our Christmas decorations, creating a beautifully harmonious holiday display. This blend of cultures represents our diverse family and showcases our love for both traditions. Our home becomes a visual celebration of both Hanukkah and Christmas, and it's done in a way that's seamless and visually stunning.


We've incorporated various decor elements in blues, whites, and silvers to tie both holidays together seamlessly. For instance, a snowflake garland adorns our living room, adding a touch of winter wonderland magic. Alongside this, a menorah takes its place on the dining room table, and Hanukkah-themed ornaments find their home among the Christmas baubles on our tree. This decor fusion creates a unique and beautiful representation of our blended household and the joy we find in celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. It's a reminder that our family's diversity is a source of strength and a reason for celebration throughout the holiday season.

Hanukkah-Shaped Sugar Cookies

No holiday celebration is complete without indulging in some delicious treats. We love baking Hanukkah-shaped sugar cookies, which have become a beloved family tradition. Kids can even get involved in the cookie decorating process, using blue and white frosting or sprinkles to add a festive touch. These cookies are not only delicious but also a creative way to celebrate the holiday.

Classic holiday cut-out cookies

Prep time

1.5 hr

Cook time

5 min

Quantity

48 Cookies

Category

Dessert

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 5 cups flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Sprinkles or icing to decorate
Directions:
  1. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, begin by thoroughly creaming the butter to achieve a smooth and uniform consistency.
  2. Gradually introduce the sugar into the creamed butter, doing so in small increments.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla extract to the sugar-butter mixture, ensuring they are well blended.
  4. In a separate container, dissolve baking soda in milk, and then combine this liquid mixture with the sugar-butter amalgamation.
  5. In another bowl, combine the flour, cream of tartar, and salt.
  6. Add the dry ingredient mixture gradually to the liquid mixture, forming a dough that is conducive to rolling.
  7. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to your desired thickness. We advise achieving a dough thickness of approximately 1/4 inch for optimal results.
  8. Cut and shape the dough as you desire.
  9. If opting for sprinkles, apply them prior to placing the cookies into the oven.
  10. Bake at a temperature of 425 degrees Fahrenheit (220 degrees Celsius) for approximately 5 minutes.

If cut-out cookies aren't your thing, don't worry! There's another delightful option for adding a Hanukkah touch to your culinary celebrations. You can always opt for a classic cake using Nordic Ware's adorable Star of David Bundt pan. This charming Bundt pan has the power to transform even a simple box mix cake into a stunning centerpiece for the holiday season. I can personally attest to its magic; I bought one to impress my Jewish in-laws, and it was a massive hit! It's a convenient and delicious way to infuse the festive spirit of Hanukkah into your holiday desserts.

Gift-Giving in Our Blended Household

While we typically reserve our major gift-giving for Christmas day, our Hanukkah celebrations feature a unique twist. On the first night of Hanukkah, we exchange small gifts to mark the beginning of the Festival of Lights. These gifts are usually thoughtful and meaningful, setting the tone for the holiday season. It's a tradition that enhances the anticipation and excitement of Hanukkah while maintaining the grandeur of Christmas day.


Here are some of the memorable gifts we've exchanged during past Hanukkah celebrations:

 

  1. Nonfiction Books: We're avid readers of nonfiction in our household, and gifting a thought-provoking book related to our interests has been a recurring theme. Whether it's a bestseller, a historical account, a cookbook, or a biography, these books have provided us with intellectual stimulation and enriching discussions. A favorite from last year was the cookbook Jew-ish by Jake Cohen
  2. New Hanukkah Decor: Each year, we add a new piece of Hanukkah decor to our collection. It might be a beautifully crafted menorah, an intricately designed dreidel, or a Hanukkah-themed table centerpiece. These additions not only enhance our festive ambiance but also serve as reminders of the joyous occasions we've celebrated together.
  3. Pajamas for Christmas Morning: While we don't exchange extravagant gifts on Hanukkah, in the past we have gifted each other cozy and fun pajamas that we wear on Christmas morning. It adds an element of comfort and festivity to our Christmas rituals, and it's a delightful way to bridge our Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations.

These Hanukkah gifts may vary from year to year, but they all have one thing in common – they symbolize the love and togetherness that define our holiday season. By reserving our major gift-giving for Christmas day and focusing on meaningful, thoughtful gifts for Hanukkah, we strike a perfect balance between the two celebrations in our blended household.

In our blended household, Hanukkah traditions hold a special place in our hearts. Lighting the menorah, playing dreidel, and incorporating Hanukkah decor into our Christmas celebrations add unique and meaningful elements to our holiday season. Sharing Hanukkah-shaped sugar cookies with our loved ones is the icing on the cake, or in this case, the frosting on the cookie. Embracing our multicultural traditions is what makes our holidays truly special.

 

Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, or a combination of both, it's essential to cherish the traditions that are meaningful to your family. In the end, it's the love and togetherness that truly make the holiday season magical.