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.