First thing’s first, I’ve never thrown a Hanukkah party. Come December you can usually find me schlepping a kugel to a friend’s Christmas party, then going home to light my menorah alone (sad face). But after talking with some co-workers and friends, polling the lovely readers of Alma, and reading Vogue, I’ve realized that throwing a Hanukkah party can be super easy and I should really be doing it every year because it’s an excuse to eat fried food with friends and do I really have to go on?
Below, find tips for everything from the food to booze to entertainment to grave mistakes you musn’t make. Throw on your favorite ugly Hanukkah sweater and enjoy. Happy Hanukkah!
As you may know, Hanukkah is eight days long, which gives you ample opportunity to throw a shin-dig during the actual holiday. It probably makes the most sense to go for one of the weekend nights, though will anyone really complain about eating latkes on a random Tuesday? Probably not.
You can also get away with throwing the party before or after the official nights of Hanukkah. First of all, nobody can really keep track of these things as they change every year. And second of all, it’s your party and you can do what you want. So there!
While there’s no majestic Christmas tree to center your holiday party around, there’s plenty you can do to bring some beautiful Hanukkah cheer to your digs. Take a look at our list of 9 items that are totally Hanukkah chic (I personally don’t think any Hanukkah party is complete without a “Happy Hanukkah Bitches” banner).
And then, of course, you need a menorah. I personally still use the same menorah I’ve had since I was a kid (there’s still a little piece of paper on the bottom with my name scrawled on in my little kid handwriting and it’s just too cuuuute) but if you want to spring for a new one, we found 15 menorahs that are lit AF (get it???). And don’t forget the candles! You can go with the classic boxes you can find at the grocery store or class it up with some fancy ones, like these sparkly blue guys or these eco-friendly hand-dipped beeswax candles for you crunchy Jews out there.
I have one friend who throws a fantastic Christmas party every year, and my favorite little touch is how she uses a projector to play classic Christmas movies on a blank wall. She plays them on mute so as not to disturb the party chit-chat, but it’s always nice to glance over and catch Charlie Brown or a claymation reindeer doing its thing. You can try this with classic Hanukkah movies (I know, so many options, how will you choose??) like Eight Crazy Nights, The Hebrew Hammer, or everyone’s favorite, the Rugrats Hanukkah special.
Or you can say screw it to decorations and just focus all your time and attention on the food and booze. Nobody will care.
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. For some glorious reason, our ancestors decided that we need to eat fried food on Hanukkah, so eat it we shall. Latkes, or potato pancakes, are the classic Hanukkah food, and for good reason. You cannot go wrong with classic latkes: this recipe and video will not steer you wrong.
If you’re an experimental kinda gal, get funky with alternative latkes like these beet latkes (vegan friendly!), plantain latkes with avocado crema, latke waffles (because waffles!!!), harissa sweet potato latkes (which are also gluten-free), or LATKE GRILLED CHEESE.
Another fun latke-delivery-system is to make classic latkes and then create a toppings bar. You can even cheat by using store-bought latkes (pro-tip: Trader Joe’s are very good); everyone will be so impressed with your toppings smorgasbord they won’t mind. Virtually anything tastes good on top of a fried potato, from smoked salmon to aioli to cheese to pesto. Go crazy and add some chocolate and sprinkles to the mix. Someone will go for it (probably when they’re drunk).
Did you know there are other foods we can fry besides potatoes? Crazy, I know! Doughnuts, called sufganiyot, are a big deal in Israel and should definitely become a big thing in the States because, well, doughnuts. Here’s one classic recipe for jelly-filled doughnuts, egg-nog donuts for a Chrismukkah twist, or Mexican hot chocolate-glazed sufganiyot. Or, you know, just buy some doughnuts! It’s fine!
Oh, and you can make your own chocolate gelt. Boom.
It’s always a good idea to ask folks to BYOB to make sure people can get as merry as they’d like to be, but it’s also nice to create a signature Hanukkah cocktail if you feel so inspired. May I interest you in a chocolate gelt cocktail? The Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel? This one’s called the Flaming Jew and I really don’t know how to feel about that, but it’s probably delicious.
A Hanukkah party doesn’t need entertainment, per se. I mean, you’ve got food and booze and friends and the party can naturally progress from there. But if you want to try out some more organized fun, there are plenty of options.
Dreidel is the classic Hanukkah betting game that involves spinning a top. I know, it sounds thrilling. Check out the official rules here. You can bet with candy or nuts or real money if you’re crazy like that. Or you can skip the rules and just have contests to see who can spin for the longest, or who can spin one on the counter without it rolling off. OR YOU CAN TURN IT INTO A DRINKING GAME. You’re welcome.
If you’re into Cards Against Humanity, spring for the Jew Pack to Hanukkah-ize your cringe-worthy experience.
One Alma reader told us she hosts a Hanukkah quiz show every year (with prizes, of course). This can be especially fun if you have non-Jewish guests who actually want to learn more about the Festival of Lights. You can steal questions from this quiz or make up your own depending on your Hanukkah knowledge/Googling abilities. Prizes can range from first pick of the latkes to Hanukkah mustache glasses.
And of course, you didn’t get a menorah just to have it sit there and look pretty. Have your guests gather ’round for a traditional menorah lighting ceremony. Here’s a cheat sheet of blessings to use with videos to help you get the pronunciation down right. And remember, candles are supposed to be placed in the menorah from right to left, but lit from left to right, and correspond to which night of Hanukkah you’re on.
We don’t have quite the selection of holiday music to choose from as our Christian brethren, but that doesn’t mean you have to play “The Hanukkah Song” by Adam Sandler on repeat all night (please don’t do that). Pandora actually has a Hanukkah station (though fair warning, when I turned it on just now, “The Hanukkah Song” by Adam Sandler was playing).
Better yet, check out Alma’s very own Hanukkah playlist, now up on Spotify, featuring songs about spinning, lights, and an actual Hanukkah song or two. It’s real good, I promise.
• Wear an apron or an old t-shirt while frying stuff, not your pretty party clothes
• If you’re making latkes, keep all windows open, all other doors closed. And have plenty of air freshener on hand. (Cause it stinks.)
• Better yet, make your latkes ahead of time and freeze, then just reheat before the party so you can actually have FUN.
• Put tin foil underneath your menorah to catch dripping wax.
• And as one Alma reader emphatically implores, DON’T KEEP THE VODKA NEAR THE FRYING OIL.
Top photo via Flickr/Center for Jewish History