Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, arrives early this year on December 2. With nationwide menorah lightings, latke eating, dreidel playing, and much more, we’ve got the best eight celebrations for those eight special nights.
From Atlanta to Los Angeles, from raucous to quirky, the U.S. is home to some truly exceptional Hanukkah bashes, including family favorites like dreidel spinning and menorah lighting and commemorations of the ancient Jewish rebellion led by Judah Maccabee around 200 BCE. Here, a look at some of the biggest festival of lights parties you can find in major American cities.
1. Atlanta: Grand Menorah Lightings and Hanukkah Celebrations
December 2-9; free; locations throughout the city; (404) 898-0434; atlantajewishconnector.com
With daily Hanukkah celebrations throughout the city, the simcha (party) never ends! Decatur Square hosts the first night, when the grand menorah is lit. Come hungry - there’s hot latkes, fresh donuts, plus music, dancing, dreidels, raffles, and prizes. Spread some Hanukkah cheer at the Menorah Car Parade on December 6, when cars decked out with menorahs go on a drive from the Beltline throughout Atlanta.
2. Boston: Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights
December 5, 4:30 PM – 10:00 PM; free events with food at extra cost; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; (617) 267- 9300; mfa.org
Art, music, and Jewish heritage come together at this celebration, held at one of the best museums in New England. Come for the community menorah lighting and stay for the family song and story time, scavenger hunt throughout the galleries, dreidel making, and face painting. Then nosh on latkes, rugelach, and Star of David cookies. Don’t forget to save room for the top-your-own donut bar. Be sure to check out “The Maccabees and the Hanukkah Story,” a special installation featuring three centuries of Jewish decorative arts and ritual objects from Hanukkah lamps to embroidered silk.
3. Chicago: “Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins”
December 1 – January 5, 2019; $25 adults, $20 children; Strawdog Theatre Company; (773) 644-1380; strawdog.org
Don’t miss this amazing stage production of the classic children’s book by Eric Kimmel about a weary traveler who stumbles upon a village taken over by a band of goblins who have ruined the town’s Hanukkah festivities. Live music tells the story as Herschel tries to defeat the wily fiends during the holiday’s eight nights.
4. Dallas: Hanukkah Hoopla
December 2; 1:00 PM - 5:30 PM; free; Aaaron Family JCC of Dallas; (214) 739-2737; jccdallas.org
Get your shop on at this holiday celebration and marketplace where more than 35 local vendors sell handmade art, glass and pottery, jewelry and Judaica, and yummy homemade treats perfect for gift-giving. Music and dancing plus storytelling, face painting, and a balloon artist entertain the kids while adults hit up the Latke Piano Lounge. L’chaim! (Cheers!) Menorah lighting begins around 5:30 at the Chabad of Dallas (6710 Levelland Rd).
5. Los Angeles: Hanukkah on the Canals Parade
December 9, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM; free; Venice Canals, Venice Beach; (310) 821-1414; opentemple.org
Rock the boat, Hanukkah-style as decorated canoes, kayaks, barges, paddle boats, and yachts take to the canals of Venice to celebrate the holiday. Bring the kids - there’s also menorah making and live music, plus the menorah lighting at sundown. Favorite local chef the Latke Lady serves up… you guessed it… her famous homemade potato pancakes just like your bubbe (grandma) used to make.
6. New Orleans: Latkes with a Twist
December 6, 7:00 PM; $35; Press Street Station; (504) 828-6334; jcrs.org
If you’re hoping this “twist” includes a lime, you’re in luck! This holiday event serves up a mean vodka latke punch, a bourbon Hanukkah highball, plus lots of other spirits from an open bar. Self-ordained Latke Master and local chef Adam Biderman slings his signature potato pancakes at the latke bar while the Joe Gelini Trio keeps the crowd dancing. Proceeds from the event help support local Jewish children with scholarships.
7. New York City: 10th Annual Latke Festival
December 3; 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM, $75; Brooklyn Museum; latkefestival.com
The classic Hanukkah dish gets a fun makeover by more than two dozen local chefs at this incredible tasting event. Forget your typical potato pancakes with apple sauce; past year’s dishes have included rueben latkes stuffed with corned beef and sauerkraut, duck confit latkes, and even bay scallop ceviche latkes. The creativity alone makes the entry fee well worth it, with proceeds benefitting the Sylvia Center, a local nonprofit dedicated to teaching healthy eating habits to children and their families.
8. San Francisco: Night at the Jewseum Shimmer
December 6, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM; $8; the Contemporary Jewish Museum; (415) 655-7800; thecjm.org
Light up the night at this meshuga (crazy) adults-only, museum-wide holiday celebration where a cosmic glow-in-the-dark fashion show is center stage as a DJ pumps up the jam with club music. Other off-beat activities include a scavenger hunt held in a gallery featuring the works of a Jewish tattoo artist, and a candid clergy Q and A session called “Ask a Rabbi.” Three-piece klezmer band the Yiddiots offers up holiday tunes as guests hit up the latke and brisket bar and sip special Hanukkah bourbon and gin cocktails.