Last spring I had a bustling virtual social life. I Zoomed into happy hours, several seders, birthday parties and more. I’d look nice from the waist up and was excited about it! Eventually, summer came, rules loosened up for a bit, and we had the chance to gather outside in a socially distanced way. Now here we are in December, headed back indoors but a lot less eager to video-chat. Most of us are sick of staring at a screen and ourselves during video meetings all day, and the last thing we want to do at night is turn the camera back on for fun.
Unfortunately, the pandemic is still here and despite our hopes that things will improve soon, it’s clear that we will celebrate a full calendar year of holidays via video-chat first.
Next up for us Jews is Chanukah. Although less significant religiously than holidays we have already celebrated while socially distancing, Chanukah is usually a whole lot of fun. Filled with food and friends, candles and gifts, it’s definitely most enjoyed when celebrated in a group. And since it lasts eight days, you don’t have to choose: you can celebrate with all sides of the family and different groups of friends—when there’s not a pandemic, of course.
But just because we’re staying home doesn’t mean we can’t weave some joy from the Festival of Lights into our new normal. I suggest making the celebration as fun and easy for yourself as possible while still indulging in something fried and delicious. Even with a simple at-home Chanukah, you can bring a bit of light from the holiday into your week.
Light the candles
Since nobody is going out anyway, there’s no reason not to light the candles at home all eight nights of Chanukah this year. With every additional candle, the chanukiyah gets prettier and brighter. I love the tradition of placing it in the window and enjoying the reflection of the candles.
Bring back video happy hour (*but keep it short, lighthearted and fun)
Singing in unison is pretty difficult (and awkward) over video chat, so I’ll be sending out a couple of songs to friends beforehand and asking people to take turns singing. Another great option is to host a low-key holiday happy hour and have people “drop in” with their drink while you play some music in the background—together but apart, if you will. Spotify’s Chanukah playlist is surprisingly awesome and promises almost three hours of holiday fun.
Don’t forget to eat like it’s a holiday
One thing that makes it hard to celebrate a Jewish holiday alone or in a small group is the fact that for so many of us the focus of a holiday is preparing the traditional food and the delight that comes in sharing it with others. When you take the communal aspect out of it, latke making just sounds like a whole lot of work. I usually do it for the one night that I host friends (and time my hair washing for that night), eating the rest of my Chanukah fill of latkes at other people’s houses. This year will obviously be different. Instead, I’ll be making my latkes on the first night and eating them throughout the holiday.
According to Rachael Ray, latkes can be frozen for up to two weeks and then reheated on a baking sheet. We can sit around and argue about how a good latke never touches the oven, or we can accept that life is what it is right now and that potatoes and oil are usually delicious, even if they’ve been reheated. If you don’t like latkes, try your hand at traditional Israeli sufganiyot (donuts) or zalabia (Yemenite fried dough). My view is that it’s not really Chanukah without the taste (and smell, let’s be honest) of freshly fried goodies. Plus, this is definitely not the year for deprivation.
No matter how you choose to celebrate, I encourage you to find unique ways to bring the light and magic of this holiday into these dark times.