Opinion | Celebrating international Chanukah traditions with our senses

Latkes (Image by Taken from Pixabay)

By Ilana Meiller

The recent increase in coronavirus cases across the country continues to affect everyday life, including holiday plans. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying at home for the holidays to avoid the spread of the virus, we are faced with the grim reality of having to celebrate Chanukah only with members of our households and via social media.

But despite Chanukah being celebrated in an unusual manner this year, you can improve your family’s mood by embarking on a multisensory journey around the world mostly from home. This is an appropriate time to use your five senses to learn and experience together how some countries have merged their cultures with common Chanukah traditions and customs.

Countless resources and information on global Chanukah traditions are available online. You can research a country of your interest before immersing your family in its holiday customs through music, fragrant foods, illustrations and crafts. You may also decide to engage all the senses while visiting a different country on each day of Chanukah or focus on one country for the duration of this Festival of Lights.

Being a patriotic Israeli, I will transport myself to my dear Israel from the comfort of my home. So come join me on this fun adventure of a lifetime. Nesiah tovah! (Have a good trip!)

Gazing at the light

It is an amazing spectacle to admire the shining Chanukiyot or menorahs while walking on the streets of Israel. When I lived in Jerusalem, I was mesmerized by the numerous menorahs displayed in the windows of homes and outside throughout the city.
Likewise, have Israel in mind as you stroll around your neighborhood with members of your household and enjoy the unique Chanukiyot. Many of us are looking forward to attending virtual parties, further stimulating our eyes with more ornaments and lights.

The scent of sweetness

Sufganiyot, Israeli doughnuts, abound in bakeries all over Israel during Chanukah. Every year, the enticing aroma of fancy sufganiyot, filled or topped with innovative options, permeates the air.

I am planning to try out a vegan recipe by Sarah’s Vegan Kitchen. Whether you make your own sufganiyot or purchase them in a bakery, decorate them with glaze and top them with inspirational messages or drawings using chocolate chips, pecans or fruits.

Savoring tradition

Moroccan and Sephardic Jews in Israel eat sfenj for Chanukah. These fried doughnuts contain just five ingredients, which are listed on Food.com. Then, it’s fried with olive oil and dipped into sugar (optional).

Gather your little chefs in the kitchen and educate them on this tasty Moroccan treat.


A song pleasing to the ears

Ladino, a Hebrew-Castillian Spanish language (Judeo-Spanish), is spoken by Sephardic Jews in Israel. This nearly extinct language comes to life when the song “Ocho Kandelikas” or “Eight Little Candles” is performed during Chanukah.

I love dancing to this beautiful song by KolMusAlev and Pink Martini on YouTube. And it will hopefully lift your spirits during this pandemic as well.

The touch of memories

Israelis participate in Chanukah activities taking place in museums across the country. These museums offer families exciting events that keep the children entertained with crafts and shows.

Capture your family’s special moments this holiday and preserve them in a memory book. You can add photos, special anecdotes and souvenirs. In addition, express your talents by creating your own personalized cards for extended family and friends to remind them that they are always on your mind.

Studies have demonstrated that meaningful interactions strengthen family bonds, which contribute to better mental health in children and adults. These pleasant experiences with our loved ones during Chanukah will help brighten our lives in this gloomy time.

Chanukah sameach!

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