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Hanukkah, also spelled Chanukah, is an eight-day festival celebrated by people who practice the Jewish faith all around the world. To celebrate the holiday, menorahs are lit to remember the miracle when one day of oil lasted for eight days and nights after the Maccabean victory. There are also certain foods that are associated with the holiday, including potato pancakes called latkes, fried fritters called svinge, and jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot.
Although Jewish communities exist in countries all over the world, some places have larger and more festive celebrations for the public to join in on than others. Whether you come from a large Jewish family or are just curious to learn more about the festivities, these are some of the best places in the world to celebrate Hanukkah.
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Perhaps the most traditional and obvious place to celebrate Hanukkah is the Jewish homeland of Jerusalem. Hanukkah began in Israel, and many travel here for the holiday to see where it all began. Taking a pilgrimage to this historical land is an important part of Jewish culture and a must for anyone who practices the faith. Come here to celebrate Hanukkah if you want the holiday to mean more than just exchanging gifts and material things. This is the place to be to remember the reason for the season while celebrating family traditions and starting new ones.
New York City has one of the largest Jewish populations in the world, so it should come as no surprise that this is a wonderful place to celebrate Hanukkah. You can see one of the largest menorahs in the world here at the Grand Army Plaza and attend ceremonies in the evenings. The menorah, which is about nine meters tall, is lit each evening of the festival and includes lots of traditional dancing and food. It’s a great place to bring children to teach them about religion and culture. Also in New York City, you’ll find many Hanukkah music festivals and enjoy some festive tunes that aren’t all about Christmas! You can also check out the 32-foot-tall menorah in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which is lit every night around 6pm during the festival.
You might not expect to see Rome on a list of places to visit for Hanukkah given its strong connection to the Catholic church, but this Italian city throws a lovely Hanukkah celebration at Piazza Barberini. A huge menorah that’s about six meters tall is lit here, and Rome has an Old Jewish Quarter that is the place to go for traditional Jewish food. Fried artichokes and latkes are local specialties here, but of course there’s plenty of amazing Italian food to try while you’re in town as well.
There’s something special about the Hanukkah celebration and menorah lighting on Lincoln Road at Euclid Circle in Miami Beach. This is the iconic seashell menorah that weighs 2,000 pounds and is on display for all to see. During Hanukkah, candles are lit and kids receive traditional latkes and jelly doughnut treats. Live music is played here as well. Chanukah Under the Stars is a North Miami Beach celebration that is free to attend for the menorah lighting and has a paid dinner option. This celebration has lots of activities for the kids, including dreidel games and cookie decorations. There are actually several great places to celebrate Hanukkah if you’re in Florida, including Orlando and Hallandale Beach as well. Orlando has an annual car parade with menorahs strapped to the roofs of automobiles, and Hallandale Beach has an 18-foot menorah and festival put on by the Chabad of South Broward.
The Belgian city of Antwerp also has a large Jewish population and throws an exciting Hanukkah celebration each year. Many Orthodox residents live in the Diamond District, and there are lots of events that visitors and locals can partake in. You’ll find a large menorah in town that is the centerpiece for the city’s celebration. Visit some of the local bakeries to try some of the delicious Jewish specialties, and also stop by some of the Kosher restaurants in town.
There are also quite a few Jewish celebrations that take place in Los Angeles during Hanukkah season, and this is a great getaway spot for a little warmth and sunshine to celebrate the holiday. Menorah lightings take place in Beverly Hills, and there are numerous kosher restaurants that are highly rated and perfect for the season. In addition to the Beverly Hills lighting at Two Rodeo Drive, you can also check out Hanukkah menorah lightings in Santa Monica on the 1300 block of the Third Street Promenade. The Zimmer Children’s Museum hosts a Hanukkah festival with activities like storytelling and guest performances, and the Skirball Cultural Center has a festival in Los Angeles too. Other places to visit during the holiday period are the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and the L.A. Farmer’s Market menorah lighting.
Trafalgar Square is the place to be during Hanukkah season when you’re in London. This is where people gather to watch the menorah lightings and sample delicious doughnuts and bagels too. There is a large Jewish population in London, so you’ll find a nice mix of both modern and traditional ways to celebrate. There’s a free family celebration that takes place each year with young musicians, acapella singers, and school choirs. Hot food and free doughnuts are also served to celebrate the holiday tradition of eating oily foods. Many local synagogues and Jewish community groups host their own events too.
Another place that people may be surprised to see on a Hanukkah festival list is Charleston, South Carolina. But the yearly Chanukah on the Square event is not to be missed if you’re in the area. In fact, Charleston has the oldest continuously operating synagogue in the U.S. The festival is put on by the Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program, Chabad of the Lowcountry, and the City of Charleston’s Office of Cultural Affairs to celebrate the eight-day Festival of Lights. Expect to find plenty of seasonal treats, dancing, music, and candles in traditional fashion. To make a full weekend out of it, book a stay at the Belmond Charleston Place Hotel and get a guided tour of some of the important Jewish sites around town.
The place to be to celebrate Hanukkah in Boston is Boston Common across from the Massachusetts State House. Boston Common is America’s oldest park, so come here for history and a tradition that draws in people of all different backgrounds. The tallest menorah in New England is also located here and has been making the city festive for the holiday for over 30 years. Chabad of Downtown Boston puts on the event, which typically features live music, special guests, and sweet treats.
San Francisco’s famous Hanukkah celebration takes place at Union Square and draws famous figures from all walks of life. The Bill Graham Menorah has been an annual tradition here since 1975. Events to check out include dreidel spinning, live musical performances, arts & crafts sessions, and traditional treats. The Westfield San Francisco Center also hosts a Festival of Lights celebration with entertainment, crafts, and food.
For a unique way to celebrate Hanukkah this year, head to the beautiful town of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Here you can combine a festive celebration with an ice skating experience, because Ice on the Landing is the outdoor waterfront venue for the town’s festivities. Chabad Jewish Center of Chattanooga puts on the event, and you can watch the menorah lighting before taking a few laps around the rink.
Another Southern gem for celebrating Hanukkah is Decatur, Georgia, which is just outside of Atlanta. This is a diverse town that is home to many different cultures, including Judaism. The annual Hanukkah celebration in Decatur has musical entertainment, delicious latkes, and a ten-foot menorah. Chabad Intown actually puts on four Chanukah celebrations and grand menorah lightings during the last week of December. If you can’t make the Decatur Square one, there’s also a celebration in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta, Atlantic Station on the Green, and Avondale Estates on the City Green. Visit the organization’s website to learn more about the holiday, videos and songs, recipes, and how-to guides.