Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Hanukkah!

The Dishes all celebrate Christmas so you'll see a lot of posts on our site this time of year that are centered around that holiday: songs we sing, food we prepare, gifts we exchange, etc.  Our readers, however, come from various religions and parts of the world and celebrate a variety of religious and non-religious winter holidays.  

Today, we're wishing our Jewish friends a very Happy Hanukkah (or Chanukah).  The eight day Jewish Festival of Lights began at sundown yesterday and continues for eight days.  

A more recent (non-religious) holiday that began in 1966, Kwanzaa is a celebration of African-American heritage, pride, community, family, and culture that begins December 26th and continues for seven days.  

In Japan (where my niece lives), Japanese New Year is the highlight families look forward to this time of year.  Celebrated on January 1st, this has been one of their most important annual festivals for centuries.

Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Japanese New Year or another holiday; whether we live in the United States or Indonesia, at this time of year, we all have family traditions and holiday histories that are special to us.  Today, let's bring the world together.  Please tell us about the holidays you observe and the traditions you hold dear.



  1. wow... you mentioned Indonesia, i'm so proud ;)

    our tradition is we will pray (1 days before chinese new year) and cook and present food to our ancestor who has died and told them then tomorrow and in the morning of first chinese new year we will say "gong xi..gong xi" and then my mom will give us red envelope we called angpao, we will wear a new clothes and sometime we wear red clothes (we believe that red colour will bring a good life and prosperity ;))

    then we will visit our other family, eat together, drinking, talking and sometime singing.

    and in our town is famous with round the town by pedicab we called raun becak (when night);)

  2. That sounds lovely, Eli! I think the important thing shared by all traditions is spending time with our families/friends. I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday!

  3. Hey I got a mention!

    As my hubs is Japanese, in addition to Christmas, I now get to celebrate New Year's with my in-laws in Japan.

    New Year's in Japan is more than just a one day event. The preparations before the new year are almost more important than the day itself. One of these being, much to my chagrin, is what I like to call "The Big Clean". When I say big, I mean big. The importance being that if everything is clean and everything is finished, then you can start the year a with a fresh clean slate. Personally, I don't have a problem with this, but really, who likes cleaning the door tracks with a rag wrapped around a chopstick?

    After the big clean, decorations go up. Each decoration has a special meaning and serves a special purpose. Decorations are usually made of pine, straw, oranges and mochi (sticky pounded rice cakes) placed in strategic areas of the home to ward off evil and attract good luck.

    The Japanese also send nengajou which are New Years cards. We would equate it to the yearly Christmas cards that get sent to friends and family, updating each other on the past year and wishing everyone good will. Nengajou have their own set of rules, and there are so many dos and don'ts that i can't keep it straight in my head. My FIL has been laboring over his for a good few weeks as he has about 150-200 to mail out. The most amazing part is that the Japanese mail system guarantees delivery of all nengajou, if received before the cut off date, on New Year's Day. Pretty impressive.

    Food is also very important. It is tradition to eat soba (buckwheat noodles), which symbolizes longevity, on New Years Eve. On New Year's day, everyone eats osechi, which is an elaborate collection of dishes, each having a special meaning. New Year celebrations traditionally extend over 3 days during which, historically, it was considered taboo to cook anything but a few specific dishes. This why osechi had to be big enough to feed everyone over the course of three days. In the olden days, everyone cooked their own (some still do) but now it is much more common to order your osechi. The average osechi runs about $300-$400, depending on what is included.

    Each ingredient has a special meaning and importance in bringing good health and fortune. Truthfully, I only like a few of the foods included but I dutifully choke back everything, as I am determined not to be the foreigner who brought bad luck upon the family. I have only participated in two New Years with my in laws, but each time my MIL made sure I ate the kazunoko, which is herring roe believed to bring an abidance of children in the new year. I am beginning to think she is getting impatient for grandchildren.

    After the morning osechi, it is off for hatsumode, the first visit to a shrine or temple. In Tokyo, there is a very large shrine in Asakusa which is an extremely popular choice of many for their hatsumode. Our family just hits up our local shrine. Then it is back home for a nap and more food and drink. If there are any children around, they typically receive otoshidama, which is an envelope filled with money (this is very similar to what Eli described). I don't think that it is customary to give this to grown adult children, but my husband still receives this from his grandmother. I think it is one of those things that it depends on the family.

    I am sure I left a ton of things out, but all of the traditions and superstitions aside, New Years here is like every other holiday around the world. A time to be with your friends and loved ones and celebrate all of lives blessings.

  4. Beautiful! The most important part of the holidays is spending time with family. I really enjoy that part of the holidays.

  5. Eli, thank you for sharing your traditions! :)

  6. Jenn, thank you so much for telling us more about Japanese New Year! I have to smile at your MIL making sure you eat plenty of the "child producing" food. I'd say that's a not so subtle hint! lol!

    I agree with what all of you have said about the various holidays we celebrate: Family is at the heart of them all.

  7. Virginia said, The most important part of the holidays is spending time with family. I really enjoy that part of the holidays.

    I agree, Virginia. My family is spread out across several states (and in the case of my niece, continents) I miss seeing them in person over the holidays but I enjoy spending time with the good friends who have become my "family of the heart."

  8. Even if the countries celebrate the same holidays, they do not celebrate them the same way. When I was in the Peace Corps, Christmas was a little bit of a let down. It was a christian country, but the huge family celebrations and Santa aren't part of it.
    We always try to get as many family members as we can together at some point over the holiday. We have a Christmas dinner for those who can come. However, we don't like to put our children in the position of having to choose between their family or the in-laws. We have started having our big "Christmas" dinner and get together on Epiphany. Having a 12th night celebration has worked well for us. Everyone also has a second round of gifts which no one has comp0lained about.

    I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday no matter what they celebrate and how they celebrate it.

  9. Thank you for the Happy Hanukah wishes, everyone. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year.

    I have enjoyed reading the posts today about so many different holiday traditions, so please accept my Happy Holiday wishes for you all!

    Buffie, did you learn about Latkes yet?

  10. Happy Hanukkah

    I'm in Australia, so we are in for a Hot, Summer Christmas. Generally we have lots of salads & lashings of fresh fruit. It's a time for family.

  11. Buffie, did you learn about Latkes yet?

    Yes, Flora, I have ... thanks to you! I don't recall seeing or hearing of them when I visited Isreal, though I really enjoyed the falafels we ate.

    Do you have a family recipe that you use?

  12. LOL, Buffie! I didn't know you had been to Israel; I'd love to hear about your trip.
    I have been there twice. The first time was with a Jewish youth group when I was in college. The last time was in 2005 when we went as guests of my husbands company; they have some businesses there.

    I love Falafel,too! I'll send you my recipe for latkes if you'd like.

    Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, and a wonderful New Year!