How to Shabbanukkah

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah – or the Festival of Lights – is a minor Jewish holiday that falls during a time of year with the shortest days and longest nights in the northern Hemisphere. The origins of Hanukkah are contested; many people associate Hanukkah with the story of a single vial of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days. But in fact, the real story of Hanukkah had to do with military victory and intraethnic conflict among Jews about the assimilation.

Today, many Jews fulfill the mitzvah (commandment) of Hanukkah by lighting a menorah or Chanukiah, a candelabra with eight branches and a ninth candle (the shamash) that lights the others.  This practice comes from a conversation in the Talmud about lighting Shabbat candles

If you are hosting Shabbat dinner that falls during Hanukkah, you might consider inviting your guests to bring along their own menorah or Chanukiah to fill your home with miraculous winter solstice light.

Someone lighting Hanukkah candles outside on a windowsill. The candles are white, and it looks cold outside.

Which Candles Do I Light First On Hanukkah?

Since there are seven days in the week and Hanukkah lasts for eight days, one night of Hanukkah always falls on Shabbat. On Shabbat + Hanukkah, or Shabbanukkah, the question inevitably arises: which candles do I light first? The answer is to light the Hanukkah candles first. Why?

Since the Shabbat candles symbolize the final act of the work week before a day of rest, the Shabbat candles serve as the final fire of the evening. 

Before you light, insert the candles into your Chanukiah from right to left according to the number of the night; for example, on the fourth night of Hanukkah add four candles plus the shamash (the bonus candle that lights the other candles). When you are ready, light the shamash first and then the other candles from left to right (newest first).

What do I Say After Lighting the Candles?

The primary blessing for the Hanukkah candles is so similar to the blessing for the Shabbat candles that many folks use the tune to the Hanukkah blessing year-round. If you don’t know the tune – no worries! A blessing is a blessing whether you sing it or say it. 

Each night, you recite both the first and second blessings as you light the candles; on the first night only you also recite the Shehecheyanu, a blessing we say when we do things either for the first time, or for the first time in a long time.

Ready to bless? Check out the Hebrew Transliteration and English translation in the OneTable Shabbanukkah guide.

(Note that on Shabbanukkah, the Challah and Wine blessings stay the same, both done at dinner following the candle lighting. All blessings can be found in the OneTable Shabbanukkah guide.)

Are There Any Traditional Hanukkah Foods?

In honor of the miracle of oil, Hanukkah is all about the deep fried foods with variations from all around the world. The Ashkenazi Jewish tradition is to make latkes, potato pancakes traditionally served with applesauce and/or sour cream. In Israel, many eat sufganiyot (similar to jelly donuts) for dessert. Moroccan Jews enjoy sfenj, deep fried donuts with orange zest (often made on the third night of Hanukkah). In Cuba, Puerto Rico, and other parts of Caribbean and Latin America, it is common to eat tostones (fried plantains).

If you’re a fan of chocolate, break out the gelt, Yiddish for money, delicious chocolate coins covered in gold or silver foil, a tradition dating back to 17th century Poland.

Are There Any Traditional Hanukkah Games?

Looking for a table game to play with your guests after dinner? Grab a dreidel and place your bets! 

The Yiddish dreidel is derived from a popular Eastern European spinning top game. On the four sides of the dreidel appear four letters from the Hebrew alphabet — nun (נ), gimmel (ג), hey (ה), and shin (ש). These four letters are an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, “a great miracle happened there.” Players begin by putting a minimum amount of their currency, three pieces or so of m&ms, pennies, gelt, etc. into a central pot. Each player spins the dreidel and proceeds according to the following rules:

  • Nun – nothing happens
  • Gimmel – take everything in the pot; all players replenish the pot
  • Hey – take half of the pot
  • Shin – put a set number of currency (one to three units in the pot)
Headshot of Tova Markenson, OneTable's Jewish Learning Consultant
Photography by Ted Ely, makeup by Jody Formica, and styled by Camille Mana.

About the Author

Tova Markenson, PhD (she/her) is the Jewish learning consultant and has been with OneTable since 2022. Her work grows out of 10+ years of experience and research in the fields of collaboration, communication, and creativity. She has designed and taught courses on mindfulness, storytelling, and Jewish history to non-profit professionals, rabbinical and cantorial students, young adults, and life-long learners.

OneTable empowers people who don’t yet have a consistent Shabbat dinner practice to build one that feels authentic, sustainable, and valuable. The OneTable community is funded to support people (21-39ish), not in undergraduate studies, and without an existing weekly Shabbat practice, looking to find and share this powerful experience.

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