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Hanukkah traditions of a Princeton student


While we all share an excitement for the start of a much-deserved winter break this Friday, the traditions we will enjoy over the holidays are vastly different. This sense of diversity is the cornerstone of the Princeton experience. I, for example, have learned so much about the Judaism thanks to my roommate, Malka Himelhoch ’21, who is a member of the vibrant Jewish community on campus. She shared with me the details surrounding Hanukkah and specifically how her family celebrates this joyful holiday.

Himelhoch explained that the tradition of Hanukkah is to “light candles every day in order to commemorate the candelabrum that stayed lit magically for eight days, even though there was only enough oil to sustain it for one day.” This miracle occurred soon after the Maccabean revolt in which the Jews reclaimed the temple in Jerusalem from their Greek-Syrian oppressors. Each night of Hanukkah, an additional candle is lit until all eight are lit. “The obligation is to sit in the candles, watch them, and enjoy their light,” Himelhoch said.


Many other traditions surround this eight-day celebration, including playing dreidel. Himelhoch said that her family visits her grandparents’ house each year for a Hanukkah party, where they “play [dreidel] with pennies, and whoever wins the most pennies can trade them in for a chocolate bar.” Of course, no holiday is complete without great food. The customary dishes for Hanukkah are “potato pancakes, called latkes, with sour cream or applesauce” and “sufganiyot, which are donuts that are filled with jelly,” Himelhoch explained. They also sing traditional Hanukkah songs and give and receive presents.

Hanukkah, which began Tuesday night, occurs according to the lunisolar calendar, not the commonly used Gregorian calendar. Himelhoch pointed out that it’s fun to be a part of the overall holiday spirit with Hanukkah falling close to Christmas this year. No matter what you celebrate, take a moment to embrace the diverse backgrounds here at Princeton and learn something new. Happy Holidays!