Growing up, entertaining was always such a fun part of the winter holidays. My mother invited family and friends over on Christmas Eve to eat shrimp cocktail, lasagna, and cookies while playing board games. (In case you haven’t read my previous posts, I converted to Judaism a while back.) As my brothers and I grew older it was almost more fun than Christmas morning. Being Jewish hasn’t lessened my desire to host friends in our home and having a family of my own has fueled a strong desire to establish new holiday traditions.
But learning about Judaism (and how, what and why we celebrate things) can be a process. For example, I’m four years in and I’d rather pluck out my armpit hair one by one than deal with the stress of hosting my own Passover seder. The High Holidays don’t exactly elicit “let’s get drunk and eat fun-shaped cookies while playing Jenga” kind of feelings. And while a Purim costume party does sound like fun, I think Hanukkah is the easiest time to celebrate with non-Jewish friends and family.
(Disclaimer: I’m assuming since you’re reading this blog that you probably pee when you laugh and have sticky fingerprints on your refrigerator door, so the following advice is aimed at a kid-friendly party. Feel free to jazz it up if you have the luxury of a babysitter and an alcohol tolerance.)
1. What’s blue and white with light all over? Set the mood for a fun night (afternoon) of Hanukkah celebration. Play The Maccabeats “Candlelight” on repeat or check out Kveller’s top 10 list for some inspiration. Find a blue plastic tablecloth (reuse it next year) and some white napkins. Blue cake plates optional (if you’re super fancy you might be able to find Hanukkah plates but really, blue will do.) If your kiddos are old enough to craft you could make these adorable tissue paper lanterns. Lastly, pull out your menorah and a few dreidels. (Note: vacuuming the carpet and wiping the fingerprints off the fridge are optional but you might want to move the clean laundry waiting to be folded from the couch into your bedroom and close the door.)
2. If you feed them, they will come. Give the people what they want, FRIED FOOD and SUGAR. Fill a bowl with gelt (if you serve dark chocolate coins you are my favorite person EVER). Whip up a few batches of latkes (THESE and THESE look ah-mazing or Trader Joe’s makes some great ones if you’re short on time) and keep them warm in the oven at 200 degrees. Set the table with a fun “topping bar” including sour cream, applesauce, ketchup, pomegranate seeds, ricotta cheese–kids love to “dip it!” (for an adult party try these fancy latke toppings. Pick up a dozen sufganiyot (and make sure you refer to them repeatedly as sufganiyot, not donuts) or you can go all Joy of Kosher and make your own in 20 minutes or less. I had never fried anything in my entire life before converting to Judaism and it still scares the daylights out of me but doesn’t stop me from doing it, at least at Hanukkah. Also, for the novices, have a fire extinguisher handy. You know, in case the grease fire menorah gets out of control.
Tell the story: Now that your gentile guests are high on trans fats and disaccharides they’ll be more likely to stay for the story. You can wing it with your own version or use a children’s book to guide you but adults and kids alike will love hearing about the mighty, mighty Maccabees and the story of Hanukkah.
So where other Jewish holidays may be a lot for the gentiles in your life to absorb, Hanukkah is fairly well known, not very religiously heavy and includes some delicious fried food. I can’t think of a more perfect time to invite your beloved goys over for game of driedel and a side of Judaism. Because sometimes people need to be reminded that Jews have a holiday in December too, and while it may not be shoved in your face the minute you walk into a department store, it lasts for eight nights and our decorations are way easier to take down afterwards.