12 Most Latke-licious Reasons I Host Chanukah Parties… for Non-Jews

12 Most Latke-licious Reasons I Host Chanukah Parties… for Non-Jews

“When’s Santa coming to our house?”

As a communication prof, I’m rarely speechless… until my daughter, then age 3, wanted to know when Santa, who she had seen at a preschool “holiday” (Christmas! Included a re-enactment of the nativity scene and the big guy in the red suit and beard… just sayin’!) performance, would be visiting us.

Leave it to my husband and I, the Jewish parents, to say, “Um… that would be never, Sweetie.” As her big eyes pooled with tears, I quickly added, “But let’s invite your friends over for Chanukah!”

And that would be my daughter’s non-Jewish friends. (Her Jewish friends are busy celebrating Chanukah!). My parents never threw a Chanukah party, and I’d never thrown one as an adult, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. Little did I know just how many Jew-curious buddies would temporarily set aside their reindeer games and put on their yarmulke to celebrate Chanukah (Okay, we don’t wear yarmulke’s at Chanukah—except in synagogue—but a little shout-out to Adam Sandler).

Here’s why this tradition has become so precious:

 

1. The miracle of lights

No way can the light from a lone menorah compete with the incredible display of Christmas lights adorning our neighbors’ homes—inside and out. But when I see the young and not-as-young faces, all a-glow and eyes wide in the candlelight, I realize that light, whether by electricity or fire, has incredible ability to buoy the heart and spirit.

 

2. The power of potato latkes

They can be homemade, Manischewitz-boxed or Trader Joe’s frozen (which are actually very good!)… doesn’t matter! Who doesn’t love potatoes in pancake form? Kids particularly like the dipping possibilities: Applesauce and sour cream.

 

3. The “floaters versus sinkers” debate lives on

From about September forward, we freeze chicken carcasses for the opening of matzoball soup-making season (typically starts right after Halloween). Last year, my daughter rolled her first matzoballs. One batch was cloud-like. A later batch was brick-like. As long as teeth remain intact, the chicken broth with these yummy orbs offers the ultimate comfort food… and Jewish penicillin!

 

4. Another reason to cook up a brisket

Passover and Rosh Hashana should not be the only brisket-filled holidays, particularly when Chanukah falls in the blustery winter months. There are hundreds of brisket variations, but the sweet and tangy kind (made with some cranberry sauce in the base) is usually a fan favorite.

 

5. Tearing challah is fun

One of the most excitable moments for my daughter is when she informs her friends, “Challah is torn, not cut.” I love watching her buddies tear the doughy goodness again… and again… and again. We usually need several challahs.

 

6. Braiding challah is funner

For parties and even a Girl Scout meeting about Chanukah, I buy Pillsbury breadstick dough, flour up my dining room table, and let the kids braid their own masterpieces. A little egg wash brushed on top, a few minutes in the oven, and wallah! A mini-challah for every girl (and boy!).

 

7. Jelly doughnuts at dinner

Chanukah is about celebrating oil, and lots of it. Doughnuts require oil. Sufganiyot is a fried hole-less round doughnut with jelly in the middle. In Israel, these are eaten weeks before Chanukah. In my house, after a trip to Krispy Kreme, they are eaten along with our meal.

 

8. Eight nights of presents is enviable

If my daughter’s friends knew the movie “Jerry Maguire,” they’d easily lament: “You had me at eight presents.” Some nights may include just new PJ’s or a coloring book, but there is something gleeful about knowing that at the end of the day, for a little over a week, a gift is waiting. Admission: Moms and Dads look forward to it, too! (My 3-year-old son, however, had a gigantic tantrum last year on present-free nights nine, 10, and 11).

 

9. Finally, it’s Kosher to combine gambling and chocolate!

The dreidel game isn’t really considered “gambling” if the payoff involves chocolate “gelt”, does it? Regardless, kids love spinning the dreidel, learning the meaning of the letters, and chomping up their winnings.

 

10. All the fictional characters are doing it

Elmo, Winnie the Pooh, Corduroy, Blue (Blue’s Clues), and Biscuit have hopped on the Chanukah bandwagon. Kids can learn about dreidels, latkes, and gelt from holiday books that include their favorite friends.

 

11. Blue and silver represents more than ever!

Amidst the miles of aisles with red and green Christmas decorations, I am increasingly finding Chanukah “nooks” at Target, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Party City, and countless other merchandisers. I’ve purchased Star of David tinsel, a blue and silver wreath with bells, ceramic latke serving plates, menorah hand towels, and a string of flashing dreidels. To be fair, some Jewish people feel uncomfortable decorating (too Christmas-y!), but I feel fine with a little bit of tasteful adornment around our house.

 

12. The date is a perpetually moving target.

Because Chanukah follows the Jewish calendar (which follows the lunar cycle), the start date changes each year. We may devour latkes not long after Thanksgiving turkey… or while our buddies are eating Christmas ham… or right before the ball drops in Times Square! Our friends enjoy mixing things up with us… earlier or later (The kids? Presents and gelt earlier is preferable to later. Without question.).

My daughter, now eight, has relished in five years of varied Chanukah cheer: Some years, a big party. Other years, inviting a few friends over on different nights. As of this writing—just a week before Thanksgiving—my daughter hasn’t yet asked what this year’s plan will be.

What makes my heart feel full of light is that many of our non-Jewish friends have.

Ellen Bremen

http://ellenbremen.com

Ellen Bremen is a 14-year, three-time nationally recognized tenured Communication Studies professor (Highline Community College, Seattle), who is forging a "communication revolution" to help students strengthen interactions with their professors and gain skills for college and beyond. Ellen believes that student-professor dynamics can have the single biggest impact on a student’s college experience. In her new book Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success (NorLights Press, April 2012), Ellen teaches students how to masterfully navigate simple and complex class-related situations. Ellen blogs weekly as The Chatty Professor with more college/interpersonal communication tips. Ellen’s goal is for students to enjoy better student-prof relationships, improved grades, and confident and competent communication skills for college and beyond. In the classroom, Ellen stops at nothing to help students strengthen their communication skills: Peanut butter and jelly to illustrate problematic messages, pipe cleaners to teach communication models, and Post-it notes to reduce speaking anxiety. She holds degrees in Post-Secondary Education and Communication, is an award-winning speaker, and has served as a subject matter expert in communication for nearly every major academic publisher, including Oxford University Press, Cengage, and Pearson.

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17 comments
Sharon Greenthal
Sharon Greenthal

My daughter cooked the entire dinner for the first time this year! What a proud Jewish mama I was. I love all of these, but I do wish there was a little (ok a lot) more decor to choose from- I'm a sucker for shiny things.

JodiOkun
JodiOkun

Ellen Happy first night of Hanukkah..Great 12Most!! Our first night of Lakes and oil...we all love your post!! So very true..I love all 12..

dbvickery
dbvickery

Nice glimpse into a different culture and traditions, Ellen. Thanks. And FYI, I really enjoyed my Seattle trip. It's always beautiful!

DixieLil
DixieLil

@chattyprof Loved your post...it's funny about Chanukah parties...I always made it a point to be Hanukkah Hannah and bring latkes, gelt and dreidels to my kids' classrooms when they were young. The non-Jewish kids were equally excited and to this day, they still remember the event! I'm impressed at the labor-intensive matzoh ball soup making, when you'll only do Trader Joe's latkes. Ellen, get the food processor out...you'll never go back! : D

feliciabraude
feliciabraude

Love this post! :) Makes me all excited for my girlfriends' Merry Chanukah party they are hosting tomorrow!

WineEveryday
WineEveryday

Great tradition! You've given them all a gift! Enjoy the holiday!!

JenJenkins
JenJenkins

We need you to post some of your favorite recipes.

janetcallaway
janetcallaway

Ahhh, Ellen, this is beautiful and delightful. It was with great anticipation that I was looking forward to your Chanukah post and, as always, you delivered! Thank you for sharing your traditions, thoughts and treasures. Warmes aloha, Janet

chattyprof
chattyprof

Oh, I can't wait for the day when my daughter cooks! That must be so precious. Fortunately, she enjoys getting involved with some of the cooking now, and I feel like I am just like my grandmother--not really knowing the measurements of anything :-). I hope you have a fantastic holiday. @Sharon Greenthal

chattyprof
chattyprof

Happy third night of Chanukah, Jodi! I just bought yet another challah tonight from our neighborhood French bakery. It's got oil in it, right? I hope your holiday is beautiful! We're still due to connect :-).@JodiOkun

chattyprof
chattyprof

I'm so glad you had a great visit, Brian! Tonight's the first night and I'm very excited. We have our families ready to go :-). Happy Holidays! @dbvickery

chattyprof
chattyprof

Yes, I love to share some Chanukah in my kids' classrooms, too :-). Of course, my daughter is out of school now for break, but you reminded me that I should bring something to my son's preschool. I had to laugh... about the latkes. I did them for years the traditional way. Truth be told, I just can't stand the grease splattering and how awful I feel after eating them! Also, I realized I was stuck in the kitchen. But, maybe you've inspired me to give it another go. If you have any suggestions, I'm open :-). @DixieLil

chattyprof
chattyprof

I'm a total box girl when it comes to latkes (seriously, Trader Joe's are not greasy and so much more calorically friendly than the traditional) and matzoballs. But I do love making brisket and chicken stock :-). Thank you and Happy Holidays!@JenJenkins

chattyprof
chattyprof

Janet, thank you so much! As always, you made me smile. These are meaningful traditions to me, particularly since we have no family in the area. We now have our calendar of friends will join in. Interestingly, out of the 10-ish families who will collectively share this season with us, only one family is Jewish :-). I wish you abundance in happiness for your holidays. @janetcallaway

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