What Does Hanukkah Look Like Amidst a Global Pandemic?

Normally a family-oriented holiday, Hanukkah looks different for many Jews this year as the pandemic prevents group gatherings.


Photo By Aaron Ichel

Rather than large family gatherings, many Hanukkah celebrations this year consist only of members of the same household. However, many customs persist, such as the lighting of the menorah and the playing of dreidel games.

Aaron Ichel, Mirada Staff

With the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah commencing on Dec. 10, Jews around the world are celebrating the “Festival of Lights” a little bit differently this year. Rather than large family gatherings and festive Hanukkah parties, many Jewish people have dialed down their Hanukkah plans in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Under normal circumstances, my family throws a giant Hanukkah party and we make all sorts of Hanukkah goods,” said senior Julia Massey. “However, this year we just lit the candles and did a small Hanukkah celebration over Zoom with close family and a couple of friends.”

With the holiday lining up with the end of the first semester and finals week, small celebrations and family Zooms seem to be the norm this year.

“I’m just happy to be able to light the Hanukkah candles with my family and open up presents,” said senior Aiden Moseley.

Senior Shoshie Kurzrock enjoyed a relaxing first couple of nights to her Hanukkah celebration, spending time with family and her dog Baxter, who got his own menorah toy. 

“I celebrated the third night of Hanukkah with my cousins over Zoom, but besides that, I’ve just been relaxing with my family and my dog,” said Kurzrock.

Senior Shoshie Kurzrock’s dog, Baxter, joins in on the celebrations as well, snuggling up to his favorite menorah toy. (Photo By Shoshie Kurzrock)

Though many families celebrate Hanukkah differently depending on their denomination of Judaism and family customs, lighting the candles in a candelabra known as a menorah is the traditional way of marking the holiday. Over the course of eight nights, Jewish people add a candle to the menorah and light it to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah, which dates back to the second century B.C.

The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple to the Jewish people in Jerusalem after they revolted against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. During this revolution, it is said that a miracle occurred where one day’s worth of oil lasted eight days, allowing the Jews to rededicate the Second Temple.  

Since the time of the first celebration, Hanukkah has evolved from a rooted miracle celebration into a week-long frenzy full of infinite amounts of food and gift-giving. Similar to Christmas, the gift-giving element has very little, if anything, to do with the original religious standards of the holiday.

Hanukkah foods, on the other hand, are known for their deliciousness, but also their high-calorie content as they are often fried in oil in association with the Hanukkah miracle. Among the popular Hanukkah foods are jelly-filled donuts coated in powdered sugar called “sufganiyot,”  pan-fried potato pancakes mixed with  minced onions and eggs called “latkes,” and chocolate coins called “gelt.” 

“My favorite Hanukkah food is definitely sufganiyot because they are sweet and fun to make,” said sophomore Esti Shapiro. 

Though known to be typically filled with jelly, bakeries across the world have adapted sufganiyot making so that the filling options are limitless; custard, Nutella, and pudding are popular alternatives. 

Latkes, in comparison to sufganiyot, have remained fairly on the traditional side of Hanukkah foods and are a little easier to make. 

These potato pancakes differ from hashbrowns in that they are made with onions and are fried in a large amount of oil, which creates a crispy exterior and a light, fluffy inside. Additionally, latke making is a popular tradition among Jewish families during Hanukkah. 

“Latkes are by far my favorite food,” said senior Joe Fahn. “Not only do I like to eat them, but the process of making them is something fun to share with family. We make over 100 latkes and it takes a few hours, but it’s a tradition that makes me feel young again—not to mention that eating latkes tops it all off.”

Although Zooming with family over the holiday isn’t exactly what people had in mind, Jewish families are still celebrating Hanukkah in high spirits by keeping up with family traditions and eating delicious fried foods. The eight-day long holiday will conclude on the evening of Friday, Dec. 18, also bringing an end to the first semester.