The Hanukkah Traditions Our Editors And Their Families Cherish

Eight nights and many years worth of memories.

Lit Menorah in Home
Photo: Getty Images

For those who celebrate, Hanukkah can mean many different things. For some families, it may be a casual moment of recognition at the end of a busy day, while for others, the Festival of Lights may be a more formal affair filled with extended family and meaningful rituals. On some of the holiday's eight nights, it may mean a quick weeknight supper, and other nights may be celebrated with a feast of traditional fare. Some families may celebrate with a string of smaller gifts spread out across nights, and others may participate in only one special night of exchanging presents.

In many ways, how our Jewish Southern Living editors celebrate Hanukkah with our families are uniquely lovely, but we've found some commonalities too. From childhood memories to current favorite traditions, here's what those eight special nights look like in our homes.

Multiple Menorahs

Each night of Hanukkah, it's traditional to light an eight-pronged candelabra called the menorah, adding one more candle each night. This Hanukkah ritual is so special that some editors have multiple menorahs that they light over the course of the festivities. "Everyone in my family had their own menorah to light each night," says Senior Digital Editor Rebecca Baer. Meanwhile, in my family, we had three: a formal one, an electric one with light-bulbs rather than candles, and a terribly ugly one that I crafted as a child.

Highly Selective Candles

Choosing which menorah is only half the battle: You also have to select nine candles to use with it. "My mom kept the candles in a basket in the middle of the table so every afternoon, my sister and I would pick out our colors and plan our patterns ahead of time," says Baer. "Two pinks and a yellow one for the shammash," a ninth helper candle usually placed on a higher spot in the center of the menorah, which is lit first and used to light the others.

Mom's Latkes

Our editors' Hanukkah celebrations wouldn't be complete without traditional and delicious potato pancakes called latkes, which Jewish moms have practically trademarked. Our editors agree that the rest of the holiday menu may change, often with brisket and kugel making repeat appearances, but latkes are a must-have. Baer makes a strong case for her mom's latkes' superiority: "In my humble opinion, her latkes are the best in the world!" Senior Special Projects Editor Katie Rousso puts her mom's latkes in the running, too. "My mom makes them the best," Rousso says. "I still haven't quite nailed her technique since I only get try to make them once a year…I'm working on it!" Unfortunately, they're both wrong though. My mom makes them the best, obviously.

BBQ Brisket

"Growing up in Memphis, we always picked up Corky's Beef BBQ Brisket to eat with my mom's homemade latkes," says Baer. "I didn't know that wasn't what everyone else did until I moved away from Memphis for college. I thought BBQ brisket and latkes were totally normal." While brisket is a frequent choice to grace Hanukkah tables, roasting or braising are the more common preparation methods.

Generational Love

"After we light the menorah each night, my whole family gets up and makes our way around the table, exchanging hugs and kisses. It brings such a warm energy to the room and grounds us in the spirit of l'dor v'dor" says Rousso, referring to the Hebrew phrase meaning "from generation to generation." "It's a tradition my grandfather started on Shabbat [the Jewish sabbath] decades ago, and it's a moment we cherish after lighting candles on any holiday." One of my favorite Hanukkah memories is having three generations of women in my family prepare the latkes together. Even though growing up, my role mostly revolved around supervising, I cherished the time frying up potato pancakes with my mom and grandma. These moments of holiday familial love also ascend to superstitions passed down by one generation to the next: "My mom had us all convinced that if we found our Hanukkah presents before Hanukkah, they turned to mud," says Baer. "I mean CONVINCED."

Weeknight Celebrations

Because Hanukkah takes place over the course of eight nights and only sometimes falls conveniently to align with weekends and holiday breaks designed around Christmas, the Jewish winter holiday is often celebrated on weeknights after a long day of work or school and before another early morning. Because of that, our editors have fond memories of rolling with the punches for Hanukkah celebrations and planning festivities around whatever else the week holds. "Hanukkah is different every year since it falls mostly during the week," says Rousso. "We often do small Hanukkah celebrations on week nights: dinner and candles at my in-laws one night, candles at our own homes individually, or maybe a small meal with friends. Then we get together for one big celebration on one night of Hanukkah that falls over the weekend."

Big Present Night

Because of Hanukkah's longer timeframe, many families choose to do small gifts for most nights—just a little something to make the night more special than any other random Tuesday evening. Rousso shares that her parents would surprise her and her siblings on one of the nights of Hanukkah with a bigger gift. "When we were little, my parents never let us know what night was the 'big present night,' she says. "One night we'd be opening a new pencil holder for school or a cute little nail polish kit and the next night out of nowhere was the Super Nintendo my brothers had been talking about for months!"

Spreading Hanukkah Cheer

During December, Christmas cheer abounds in nearly every direction, but our editors have had to dig a little deeper to welcome in the Hanukkah spirit, too. "When I was 14, I was in 'A Christmas Carol' at Theatre Memphis," explains Baer. "Well, I was the only Jewish person in the cast so for opening night I gave everyone dreidels and candy canes. There were dreidel games happening in all corners of the dressing rooms and green room."

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