Eight Ways to Repurpose and DIY Chanukah Traditions

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Rachel Kurland in a contest-winning Chanukah sweater she made for a friend’s holiday party.
Rachel Kurland in a contest-winning Chanukah sweater she made for a friend’s holiday party.

It’s that special time of year again — Christmas! — er, Chanukah.

With both holidays starting on Dec. 24 this year, the perfect holiday party is in high demand.

Granted, it’s hard to compete with ugly Christmas sweaters, eggnog and Secret Santa gifts, but that doesn’t mean Chanukah partiers have to miss out on all the creative and festive fun.


The often go-to Chanukah party items and snacks — mainly latkes, sufganiyot, dreidels — get an upgrade in these eight ideas for a not-your-bubbe’s Chanukah-palooza.

Decorations

Aside from the traditional menorah on the table, you can get modern, too, with a more unique centerpiece.

For a dinner party, swap out common centerpieces for a DIY gelt table runner.

The best part about this project: You get to eat all the chocolate first.

MyJewishLearning.com provided some easy steps for the piece: First, create a cardstock base using three pieces of 11-by-14 inch cardstock, though it can be customized to fit your table.

Unwrap the gelt but keep the foil intact, folding all the edges flat.

Hot glue the foil (gold side up) to the cardstock one row at a time, which each following row overlapping the previous one.

For an added garnish, string some of the excess foil pieces to create a garland for the mantel, or use plastic gold coins from any party store.

Ugly Sweaters

Ugly Christmas sweater parties have become a tradition, so why not have an ugly Chanukah sweater?

Instead of buying an expensive one, use your creativity. You can make it yourself and still remain under your holiday budget.

To make a 3-D menorah sweater, all you need is tinsel and pompoms. Hot glue the tinsel in the shape of a menorah so four of the stems and the shamash stem are on the body of the sweater, while two stems extend onto each sleeve.

Glue the yellow pompoms (or the craft of your choice) to each top of the stem to create the flames. For an added twist, glue Velcro to the top of the stems and the pompoms so they are removable and you can “light” each candle for each “day.”

But if you’re not the craftiest person, you can buy the Instant Ugly Hanukkah Sweater Kit with Chanukah patches that pin to any sweater. It sells on amazon.com for around $11.

Storytime

It wouldn’t be a proper Chanukah without the story itself, and if you can’t find your old VHS copy of A Rugrats Chanukah, why not just act it out yourself?

Using photo booth props — you can order some on sites like etsy.com or make them yourself with free online cutouts — tell the story of those eight crazy nights through your own interpretation.

Some props include presents, latkes (with or without sour cream), dreidels, sufganiyot, oil, candles, a menorah or gelt.

Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel

Instead of playing dreidel, eat it.

Marshmallow dreidels are a sweet and salty treat — for both kids and adults — that complement the rest of our traditional oily foods (has anyone actually added up the calorie intake of this holiday?).

All you need are jumbo marshmallows, pretzel sticks, Nutella, chocolate kisses and cake decorating gel.

Push the pretzel into the flat side of the marshmallow and use the Nutella — or the spread of your choice — to “glue” the chocolate kiss to the other flat side.

Pipe on a nun, gimel, hay and shin with the gel to the marshmallow and let dry. You can also try replacing the marshmallow with a square piece of caramel.

Lighter Options

Changing the traditions of latkes and doughnuts seems like a sin, so instead, try a variation on them with a healthier (eh, somewhat) recipe.

Sweet potato latkes are a festive choice to change things up. Using the same method, replace regular potatoes for sweet, and pecans add a surprisingly tasty garnish.

Sufganiyot are always a crowd pleaser, but swap out the jelly for a new flavor. Try chowhound.com’s apple cider sufganiyot with salted caramel — the recipe was created by local chef Leah Koenig — or other fillings she concocted like ginger-lime curd, Mexican hot chocolate-glazed with a marshmallow filling, or an orange-pumpkin buttercream.

Drinks

It wouldn’t be a party without a festive cocktail — and something to wash down all the greasy munchies.

The Stir has a few interesting holiday recipes, but the standout is certainly The Hammer, named after Judah Maccabee himself.

Just add 1 ounce gin, 2 ounces ginger soda, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and four ice cubes into a cocktail shaker and garnish with a lemon wedge.

Mason Jar Menorah

If you’re prone to fire accidents — or prone to starting them — try a tamer version of the menorah with Mason jars and tea lights. (Mason jars are still super trendy for some reason.)

You’ll need nine jars — the shamash jar should be slightly larger — filled with decorative pebbles, rocks or simply left empty.

Insert battery-powered tea lights to represent the candles, and voila, fireless menorah.

You can also fill the jars with water and let real candle tea lights float on top.

Gift-Giving

Instead of eight days of presents or one big present (or no presents, as in this reporter’s family), try mantel countdown bags — basically a Chanukah version of a Christmas advent calendar.

You can buy one at Crate & Barrel, or try making your own with eight small cloth bags numbered for each day of Chanukah, then tied parallel together to hang across the mantel.

The mantel has always felt a little left out during the holiday season, so putting a Jewish spin on stocking stuffers seems like a win-win.

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