Whether you go with “Hanukkah,” “Chanukah,” or “Hanukah,” there are almost as many spellings of the Festival of Lights as there are ways to celebrate. Thankfully, it’s never been easier to kindle your Hanukah spirit without compromising vegan values.
All lit up
Candles in the menorah are an iconic symbol of the holiday, reminding celebrants of the oil that burned for eight days in the rededication of Jerusalem’s Second Temple when they only had enough lamp oil to last for one night. As vegans, we strive to protect the bees, so we use plant-based candles (rather than those made from beeswax) for our menorah lighting. Vegan candles from companies such as GoodLight help to make Hanukah friendly for all beings, especially the very valuable and hardworking bees.
Food, glorious food
Can we all agree that potato pancakes are the best thing ever and just fast-forward to world peace now? Whether you top them with vegan sour cream or applesauce (or both), potato pancakes, referred to as latkes in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, are crispy-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside delights that are often a part of Hanukah celebrations. You can also enjoy traditional jam-filled donuts, or sufganiyot. Both fried treats pay homage to the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days.
Another iconic symbol of the Hanukah season, of course, is the dreidel. Depending on what side of the top lands face-up, you will maintain, add, or subtract from your stash of gelt, or chocolate coins. Given the oppression of the Jewish people that is woven into the story of Hanukah, we want to celebrate the holiday as compassionately and mindfully as possible. Using gelt that is produced without cruelty to other animals or people like these coins from Mama Ganache means we can spin our tops without selling out our values. Check out the Food Empowerment Project to learn more about the hidden human exploitation of the chocolate industry.
Whether you’re making stained glass menorahs with the kids or a flower arrangement featuring holiday blue and white hues, you can bring your Hanukah spirit to the next level with some handmade touches throughout your home. You don’t have to have hot glue running through your veins to personalize the season in a stylish way, either. A table centerpiece could include figs, pomegranates, barley, and a pretty olive oil bottle to create an elegant tribute to land of the Maccabees.
Making it musical
Of course there is the inescapable “Dreidel Song” that I dare not think about too much lest it get lodged in my brain, and Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song,” but in my household, no Hanukah season is complete without a playlist including Happy Joyous Hanukkah—the album of songs written by Woody Guthrie and set to music and performed by The Klezmatics. The beloved Okie folk singer’s mother-in-law was a Yiddish poet and Guthrie’s respect for Jewish history and culture is very apparent on this ambitious and touching album.
The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story is officially a “children’s” book, but like so much in author Lemony Snicket’s oeuvre, is it really? The long-suffering but tenacious latke star of the book is full of understandably blistering indignation as he interacts with those who can only make sense of his existence using terms distinctly associated with Christmas. As he sets off on his hero’s journey, the latke tells (yells, actually) the story of Hanukah to everyone he encounters. (Pro-tip: In the story, egg is mentioned as a traditional latke ingredient, so I omit that when I read the story as part of my vegan interpretation.)
A charitable Chanukah
Hanukah is a celebration of light and miracles, so what better time to practice the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, or “repair of the world?” Woven throughout Judaism, tikkun olam encourages compassionate action on behalf of the less advantaged and most vulnerable. The holiday is the perfect time to donate to global, national, and grassroots organizations that are working hard on behalf of the most exploited and violated beings on the planet: non-human animals. Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, A Well-Fed World, and Better Eating International are just a few amazing organizations worthy of your consideration.
Gifts of the season
Does the rather solemn and introspective holiday of Hanukah really need to compete with the consumerist bombast of Christmas? No. At the same time, a thoughtful and considerate gift isn’t the worst thing in the world. Consider checking out some of the unique items offered on Etsy and support a local maker during the holiday season. Just type “vegan” in the search bar and you’ll have all kinds of ideas at every price point. Handmade gifts, such as bath salts, scarves, and spice blends can be ecologically conscious, thrifty, and heartfelt ways to show you care all year-round. Check out Crafting a Vegan World for eco-crafts that put the fun in functional.
Marla Rose is the author of Fun, Festive and Fabulous, Vegan Holidays for Everyone.