How to Host a COVID-Friendly Hanukkah
Hanukkah is a time of togetherness and hope. But in the midst of COVID-19, you may be wondering how to celebrate Hanukkah 2020 safely. Luckily, in many ways, Hanukkah is all about bringing light into the darkness, and that’s something everyone could use a lot more of these days. Here’s how to have a COVID-friendly Hanukkah (or Chanukah) this year. Chag sameach!
What are the CDC’s guidelines on Hanukkah celebrations?
Many aspects of Hanukkah celebrations, like traveling to see friends and family or spending time with loved ones indoors, increase your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. With cases and hospitalizations rising across the United States, the CDC says that “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.” If that’s not possible, you can reduce the risks by following these CDC guidelines:
- Avoid large indoor get-togethers in favor of smaller outdoor gatherings.
- Wear a face mask (properly) in all public settings.
- Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet between yourself and people outside of your household.
- Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds using soap and hot water (or use hand sanitizer, if soap and water aren’t available).
- If you have COVID-19 or think you may have COVID-19, stay home, monitor your symptoms, and tell your close contacts that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
10 ways to have a safe Hanukkah celebration during COVID-19:
1. Assess your risk.
If you’re still hoping for in-person gatherings this Hanukkah, consider the risks before you decide. The SAFER-COVID tool, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, can help calculate the relative safety of your plans based on factors like the number of guests, setting, and duration, as well as the severity of COVID-19 spread in your community.
Brown University’s MyCOVIDRisk app is a similar self-assessment tool that also offers suggestions to help reduce the risk of your event. And if you’re hosting or attending a gathering indoors, the University of Oregon’s Aerosol Risk Estimator uses information about a room’s layout to guesstimate the likelihood of coronavirus transmission in that space.
However, no matter what the tools above tell you, limiting your Hanukkah celebrations to people you already live with — and inviting extended family to join you virtually — “poses the lowest risk for spread,” according to the CDC website.
2. Bundle up and head outdoors.
That said, the urge to gather with loved ones for Hanukkah can be hard to resist, particularly after several months of full or partial lockdown. If you decide to continue with your plans, stay within your local area, move all activities outside, and keep in-person interactions short and sweet.
Many Hanukkah traditions, including lighting the menorah, can easily be adapted to an outdoor setting. Being outside is no substitute for everyday cautionary measures, so stay at least six feet away from others and wear a mask whenever you’re not eating or drinking.
3. Rediscover the art of letter writing.
For Rabbi Judy Greenfeld of the Nachshon Minyan Synagogue in California, maintaining her own spiritual connection to Hanukkah in 2020 means taking the time to plan fun, meaningful moments for yourself. One thing she’s planning to do is reconnect with loved ones the old-fashioned way: through the mail.
“Why not list eight people you want to talk to, send a card to, or catch up with?” Greenfeld says. “Look at pictures of those people to help you remember why you love them and what you share with them, and find a Jewish poem or inspirational words to send that person so the letter is more meaningful.”
4. Organize a Hanukkah-to-go event.
Writer Chaya Milchtein, an automotive educator and the founder of Mechanic Shop Femme, hosted “Thanksgiving to-go” with her wife, preparing a feast “with all the trimmings” for a total of 70 people in their local community. The couple plans to do the same for Hanukkah.
“While the scale of the endeavor probably won’t be easily replicated, we intend to follow a similar path, serving traditional potato latkes, wine-braised brisket, from-scratch applesauce, and more,” Milchtein said. “The goal is to provide food access to our community without any proof of need, that’s open to anyone who would find a hot meal uplifting.”
5. Share the light via virtual volunteering.
Beyond the parties, latkes, and doughnuts is the deeper message of Hanukkah, Klein says, which is to “spread light and positivity.” Luckily, volunteer opportunities abound this time of year, whether you’re keeping it virtual or looking for COVID-friendly, in-person options.
“Get your family involved by brainstorming ways you can (safely) help others in need together, and be that light unto others within your community,” Klein says. “Setting up a Zoom visit with a nursing home patient is one way to bring joy and light to someone who might be feeling especially lonely this holiday season. Consider arranging contactless grocery delivery for an elderly neighbor, donating holiday gifts or food packages to a shelter, or volunteering for neighborhood cleanup, where each family can safely care for a designated area.”
6. Enjoy some structured family bonding.
If you can’t volunteer with loved ones in person, you can still bond together as a group with help from the recently released Hanukkah edition of The Interview Game, which offers a fun way for Jewish families to connect this holiday season even as they’re forced to remain apart. Over video chat, participants take turns answering open-ended questions designed to foster meaningful conversation.
“The Interview Game enables a fun, healthy transmission of culture, by playfully shedding light on personal histories, perspectives, bonds, legacies, and family traditions,” says Rabbi Michelle Dardashti, an associate chaplain at Brown University who served as a consultant for the game. “The value of passing down stories to our children (vehigadetah l’vinkha) from generation to generation is central to Judaism, and so this effort to make that more accessible is deeply resonant.”
7. Make grab-and-go latkes.
Some Hanukkah traditions, like the annual “latkepalooza” potluck Kyra Auslander has helped organize for 25 years, may be a little trickier to pull off in a pandemic. This year, Auslander and her co-host are adapting the festivities by setting up a socially distanced grab-and-go station where guests can pick up latkes and trade gift bags.
“My friend and I will each make our half of the latkes in our respective kitchens, possibly while on Zoom or the phone to recreate our annual chat,” says Auslander, a social work student and part-time freelance writer living in Chicago. “If the weather is dry and not absurdly cold, we’re inviting everyone to come by for hot cider, candle lighting, and a little schmoozing in the backyard, then sending everyone home with their grab-bag gifts and latkes.”
If the weather doesn’t cooperate? They’ll simply scrap the backyard shindig in favor of a Zoom call for candle lighting and present opening. After all, as Auslander notes, “Keeping joy and fun alive in 2020, as in every new or unchosen circumstance, is all about improvisation.”
8. Channel your inner artist.
Starting new traditions is a great way to keep your spirits up throughout this year’s Festival of Lights. Creating Hanukkah-themed art is more than just a fun and relaxing holiday activity, too — when you’re done, use the finished product to decorate your space for a little extra cheer.
You can find tons of ideas for arts and crafts online, or to make it even easier, the Las Vegas-based ART CLASSES FOR KIDS offers a Hanukkah Art Box with everything you need to complete three gorgeous projects: a Star of David oil pastel, a heart-shaped menorah, and a Star of David snowflake sculpture. Guided instruction from artist and teacher Kim Bavington is included, so your completed works of art are bound to be more polished than that popsicle-stick Star of David you made in elementary school (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
9. Plan a Hanukkah movie night.
Organize a movie night instead with the help of free virtual theaters like Scener and Teleparty. (There’s also Hulu Watch Party and Amazon Prime Watch Party if you’re already a subscriber.) Find a recipe for sufganiyot — or get a dozen delivered right to your door — and settle in for an evening of COVID-friendly conversation over classic Hanukkah flicks like An American Tale or Eight Crazy Nights.
10. Go around the world in eight nights.
Just because you can’t get on a plane right now doesn’t mean you can’t look for a change of scenery this Hanukkah — at least on your plate, says Shifra Klein, editor-in-chief of kosher food magazine Fleishigs.
“Travel to a new country each night by adding a global twist to your Hanukkah menu,” Klein suggested. “Let your taste buds explore new flavors. You can pick cuisine from your past favorite travels and vacations as a family, or places that are on your bucket list.”
In that case, consider Klein’s idea for a Havana-themed Hanukkah feast, with a menu of delicious-sounding dishes like ropa vieja tostones, arroz con pollo, fritters with tamarind sauce, and Cuban-style doughnuts with a guava glaze. You can find these recipes in Fleishigs’ Hanukkah issue or search for your own online. (The Food Network’s recipe for arroz con pollo looks especially delicious.)
If you’re quarantining or can’t travel, here’s how to celebrate Hanukkah without family:
1. Take your candle lighting virtual.
“Since Judaism is very much a family-based practice and I have lived alone for more than half my adult life, I have improvised in other years as well,” says Kyra Auslander, the Chicago writer who’s planning a COVID-friendly version of the annual Hanukkah party she co-hosts.
This year, Auslander says she plans to arrange a “video date for candle lighting all eight nights.”
“One nice thing about lockdown for singles is that our nearby and long-distance friends and family are suddenly more available for joint activities,” Auslander says.
2. Challenge your latke-making skills.
The classic potato latke might be a Hanukkah must-have, but why not switch things up a bit? Auslander — who, like many people, has spent more time cooking and baking this year than ever — plans to reprise her “different latke recipe every night” challenge from a few years ago. (Her unexpected favorite? Zucchini with chickpea flour.) You can do the same with recipes from The Daily Meal, Allrecipes, Delish, and My Jewish Learning.
3. Treat yourself.
Look, it’s been a long and difficult year, and the truth is no one really knows when daily life might return to some semblance of normalcy. You’ve undoubtedly read a lot about “self-care” in recent months, so let Hanukkah be the perfect excuse to treat yourself as the year starts coming to a close. Buy yourself a little tchotchke to open every night, spoil your dinner with one too many pieces of gelt, and eat sufganiyot for breakfast every morning (if you want). You deserve it!
The bottom line
There’s no question that the best way to celebrate Hanukkah 2020 safely is to stay home and avoid gathering indoors with people outside of your own household. That said, there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy the Festival of Lights — when you have the right mindset.
“I’ve actually had a conversation this week with family and friends about there being something special about this year,” Auslander says. “The fact that it’s not just a downgrading of the usual, but also something precious and memorable, albeit unchosen. We are being reminded of how much the important things matter to us and making special efforts to honor them. That is something to treasure.”
Frequently asked questions
Is it safe to celebrate Hanukkah during COVID-19?
Yes, you can safely observe Hanukkah during COVID-19 by avoiding travel and limiting your celebrations to people within your own household.
How can I keep myself safe during COVID-19?
The best way to keep yourself safe during COVID-19 is to stay at home as much as possible. When you can’t, wear a mask, maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and anyone who doesn’t live in your household, and wash your hands frequently.
Who’s the most at risk of getting coronavirus?
While people of all ages can become infected with the coronavirus, older individuals, as well as those with certain preexisting medical conditions — including cancer, heart disease, or chronic respiratory disease — are more likely to become severely ill with COVID-19.