This blog post was updated on December 1, 2022.
No, it’s not the “Jewish Christmas.” But Hanukkah is a major holiday that Jewish people around the world celebrate. Also known as the “Festival of Lights,” Hanukkah commemorates the story of the Maccabees’ victory against the tyrannical Greek army in ancient Israel and the lamp oil that miraculously lasted for eight days and eight nights.
Today, Hanukkah is a festival full of joy, peace, and lots of light. Oh, and latkes. Lots and lots of latkes.
Every year, Jewish people around the world celebrate this beloved holiday with games of dreidel (spinning tops), lots of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), the aforementioned latkes (potato pancakes), lighting the menorah, singing songs, and exchanging gifts. Depending on where you go, you’ll find that families celebrate with all different kinds of Hanukkah traditions, foods, songs, and more.
This December, whether you’re traveling near or far, check out these Hanukkah festivities around the world for the holiday experience of a lifetime!
The story of Hanukkah took place in Jerusalem around 200 BCE, when Jewish priests rededicated the city’s Second Temple using just a few drops of oil. Today, international visitors to the Holy Land spend the eight nights of the holiday on candlelit tours of the historic Old City. Menorahs glow in the windows of Jerusalem’s large Jewish population.
At the Western Wall, rabbis light a menorah and musicians perform traditional Hanukkah songs. Jerusalem’s cultural centers honor the holiday with their own traditions. In past years, the Ein Yael Museum has held educational and events and festivals to honor the Festival of Lights.
New York City
New York City is home to the world’s largest Jewish population outside of Israel. So it’s no surprise that Hanukkah in the Big Apple is a big deal. In Brooklyn, Park Slope’s vibrant Jewish community lights a 32-foot tall steel menorah each night of the holiday. The lightings are accompanied by hot latkes and live music. Meanwhile, “Chanukah on Ice” brings festive cheer to Central Park, where families skate to Jewish music, enjoy kosher food, and witness the illumination of an ice menorah. And NYC’s iconic Jewish delis offer up a host of Hanukkah favorites, from matzo ball soup to scrumptious sufganiyot.
The Jewish community in Rome is one of the oldest, making this city home to one of the most unusual Hanukkah festivities around the world. During the Dark Ages, Rome’s Jews were forced into a ghetto east of the Tiber River. Today, the area is a thriving Jewish quarter, where Hanukkah is a chance to celebrate the Jewish people’s resilience. Typical festivities include a menorah lighting in Piazza Barberini and a rousing street party on Via del Portico d’Ottavia. The Great Synagogue of Rome offers family-friendly fare, like dreidel games. And of course, there’s the food. The Italian-Jewish fratelle de chanuka—fritters with raisins, lemon, and honey—are unmissable.
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LondonThe biggest Hanukkah celebration in the UK takes place in London’s Trafalgar Square. There, a large menorah, or chanukiah, is lit up each night of the holiday. But the city’s tallest menorah glows in Golders Green, a niche in northwest London known for its Jewish community. Jewish families took refuge in this area after World War I and continue to make Hanukkah an annual spectacle. Besides the menorah lighting, you can expect all manner of outdoor festivities. Past events have included trapeze artists, balloon sculptors, live music, and free doughnuts from neighborhood bakeries.
The Festival of Lights is fun for everyone in the funky city of San Francisco. The city’s Jewish population actually introduced the first giant public menorah outside of Israel, which has been adopted by celebrations around the world. The tradition continues in Union Square on each night of Hanukkah.
The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco offers its own ceremonial lighting and a variety of family-friendly events. Local restaurants provide mouth-watering Jewish cuisine with an eclectic Cali twist. Past menus around the city have featured Ashkenazi Jewish tzimmes in Spanish tortillas, duck fat fried latkes, and even Kung Pao pastrami!
Mumbai’s Jewish community is small, but its roots are ancient. Of course, Mumbai is often associated with a different Festival of Lights: Diwali. Indeed, Hanukkah in India’s west coast metropolis bears striking similarities to the Hindu holiday and often takes place around the same time. Revelers fill the night with songs, sweets, well wishes, and of course, lights. Rabbis illuminate a massive menorah in front of the Gateway of India during Hanukkah. Elsewhere in the city, people burn oil lamps instead of candles. The tradition of oil-based cooking lives on in dishes like piaju, which are fried onion lentil fritters.
Jewish Americans began settling in Chattanooga, Tennessee before the Civil War. Today, the Jewish community brings a distinct flavor to the southern riverside city. The Chabad of Chattanooga puts on an annual “Menorah Car Parade.” A procession of vehicles, each crowned with a menorah, cruises through the downtown area for the Chanukah on Ice event. At the end of the parade, rabbis light up an ice-sculpted menorah at the Chattanooga Choo Choo ice rink. The fun family event encourages the entire city to enjoy the Festival of Lights.
Which other Hanukkah festivities around the world have you experienced? Tell us in the comments!