Please welcome Miryam Elisheva Segal for today’s guest post.
My “family” Chanukah parties have taken many shapes over the years. Some were successes, some not, but we always had fun along the way. In this post I’ll tell you what I’ve learned and how to make a Chanukah party your family and friends will remember in years to come.
First , you need to figure out who you’re going to invite, if you have enough room, and whether all those people can get along. We’re a blended family, so over the years we’ve had all sorts of different “family” members join us. My mother-in-law always attends, and my father-in-law depending on how he’s feeling. My husband’s brother’s family usually comes too. Sometimes we have that sister-in-law’s sister and children attend. Sometimes we’ve had a family over who the husband’s step father is my second cousin. When we have all these people together in our Brooklyn apartment, we total about 9 adults, 2 grumpy teenagers, and 9 children. You need to calculate your space and how many you can fit comfortably (or squished). If your immediate family is six married siblings on each side with their own families, you might need to rent a hall to accommodate everyone!
Timing your Chanukah party is also important. There will always be other parties and activities all the nights of Chanukah. Set the date early so people can block off their calendars. What works best for us is to host the party the motzi-Shabbos (Saturday evening) of Chanukah. Shabbos usually ends around 5 p.m. If you call it for soon after shabbos, you can serve “dinner” without spoiling everyone’s appetite with donuts and latkes first. You might find that another weeknight is better for you, or that Sunday afternoon works. Remember you will need time for set up, clean up, and recovering! And many families like to light candles at home.
Before the party
We’ve found that having light food ready as folks arrive (it’s Jewish time AND Lubavitch time, so nobody arrives on time or at the same time), and a kid-friendly craft project ready on the tables helps keep people from sitting and staring at each other, and the kids from emptying out all the toys. A tray of cut vegetables and dip goes a long way. Somewhere in our travels we picked up a CD of 10 Jewish “pop” Chanukah themed songs that we leave playing on low in the background.
Since I know we’re having a party every year, I keep my eyes out, especially right after X-mas. Even though Chanukah may still be happening after X-Mas, all those “Chanukah – themed” tchotckes go on sale. Check your local big box store and your local dollar store. One year I was in an Odd Jobs about a week after X-mass and all the holiday wrapping paper was marked waaaaaay down to ten cents a roll. I paid $2 for 20 rolls of Chanukah themed wrapping paper, which we have used to wrap presents and for arts and crafts.
Another year I found a great deal on plastic cards with punched out dreidel parts–the “craft” was assembling them into a dreidel. Chanukah-themed sand art packages are also are very popular. One year a housewares store in the neighborhood was going out of business and I bought about 20 cookie cutters on the cheap, about half Chanukah themed (more on this shortly). I usually buy a dozen of small dreidels at our local Judaica store – something that is generally not cheaper in the local dollar store. When you can find these things post-holiday, they are usually drastically marked down and that’s the time to purchase and store for the following year.
Of course, Chanukah is a holiday made for the best kind of arts and crafts projects – the ones involving food! We’ve tried making latkes as a project. Making latkes is a real Chanukah activity. But it’s hard to make them as fast as people keep eating them. Unless you have a commercial deep fryer, someone is left standing there frying latkes. We’ve tried making donuts, but we have the same problem, with someone stuck frying all night.
We finally hit on the idea of making Chanukah themed sugar cookies. I mixed up a batch of simple sugar cookie dough in the mixer and dropped it on the table. Each child got their own sheet of parchment paper and a turn with one of the rolling pins. They rolled out the dough, used the Chanukah themed cookie cutters, and then used colored sugar to decorate. We already had the colored sugar in the house from a prior project. If you are in America, Lieber’s makes kosher colored sugar, or you can buy it from The Peppermill in Boro Park (they also ship). Alternately you can make your own colored sugar for about the same price. Put down a tablecloth first to catch all the spills.
Older children can handle bowls of sugar and a spoon. For younger children I suggest using salt and pepper shakers filled with colored sugar; it provides them more control. Set a time limit because the kids will keep playing with this until it’s time to go home – even the teenagers. After baking we try to award each child some award for their cookies. Adults can have fun coming up with these awards. Some of my favorites: “Use of the most colors”, “Future Picasso”, “Most realistic”, “Best Minimalist”, etc.
Another great project is to put a bunch of different items on the table and ask people to create their own menorahs. Beyond the “Eight Donuts lined up on the table with candles stuck in them,” kids and adults come up with some interesting and unique menorahs. Provide the basic staples and some glue, and you’ll get a wide variety of unique and creative menorahs.
Wait, we haven’t talked about food yet, the actual “seudah” you’re going to serve. I admit that I am a lazy bum and buy frozen premade latkes, apple sauce, and sour cream. It’s great if you want to do these things homemade, I just recommend making them in advance, freezing, and then just reheating on the night of the party. Some years we’ve served dairy – pizza, latkes, and sufganiyot. In recent years, we’ve had a child who is highly allergic to dairy products and cannot even be in the room where dairy products are being served. So we switched to meat. It’s best to let guests know in advance what you are planning.
Here in the US we can get “Sour Supreme” and “Tofutti ‘Cream’ cheese”, both non-dairy tofu-based substitutes for sour cream and cream cheese. We also have latkes, apple sauce, and either meatballs or hot dogs and pasta. While not the healthiest, I aim for kid-friendly food, and everyone eats some “real food” before we get to the best part – the sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). I’ve learned to take orders in advance for what kind each guests wants, otherwise we get left with a dozen donuts that my waistline doesn’t need. Don’t forget to buy a box of parve chocolate coins to hand out at the end of the night.
This Chanukah party is one of my favorite holiday activities of the whole year. There are no yom tov restrictions, everyone is together, and we are creating precious family memories.
Miryam Elisheva Segal lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY with her husband and assorted children. Prior to becoming frum 15 years ago she was on track to become a crime reporter. Instead she works a full-time office job, raises her children, runs a school uniform gemach (free loan center), and is tired just reading this. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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