Having pretty much ruined both Passover and the High Holidays season here in Israel, Covid-19 now has its sights set on Hanukkah, the usually wonderful family and oil-filled celebration marking the recapturing of the Second Temple by the Maccabees back in the second century BCE.

On Tuesday, Israel introduced a nighttime curfew over the whole holiday season (covering Christmas and the New Year as well), but the day after, the curfew was cancelled, with the threat of other possible measures instead. While we may not know here if we are coming or going, what we do know is that the week-long festival of Hanukkah is really not going to look much like itself.

There’s going to be very few visits to relatives for candle lighting, no mass gift exchanges and no hordes of children spinning dreidels for chocolate coins.

And yet, Hanukkah is not called the Festival of Lights for nothing. Despite being celebrated very differently this year, it can still shine bright and alleviate the darkness that’s surrounded us for much of this year. Here’s how.

  1. Make your own sufganiyot

Utilize all that time you’re not spending traveling to different candle-lighting ceremonies to make your very own sufganiyot, or Jewish jelly donuts. Not only will you be able to boast about it on Instagram, but you’ll also get to decide exactly what you’d like to have in them – traditional red jelly, lots of chocolate or cream.

  1. If you don’t like donuts, go wild and make your own Hanukkah donut cake
Even the most intimate of celebrations demands a fabulous cake. Photo still from film

Don’t like donuts? Before you skip over to the latkes suggestions below, we recommend that you give a Hanukkah donut cake a go. ISRAEL21c asked two Tel Aviv bakers to give us their best suggestion for a stunning alternative Hanukkah cake. You can see what they came up with here. Because even the smallest and most intimate of celebrations requires fabulous cake.

Eat latkes, loads of them

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If you are a sensible person and therefore more of a savory one, ditch the donuts for the real star of Hannukah – the wonderfully golden and crisp potato pancakes that are latkes (levivot in Hebrew).

Containing little more than potatoes, onions and eggs, these mouthwatering pancakes are best eaten hot off the stove with a side of sour cream and applesauce. And while the usual mass gatherings at Hanukkah mean that the host is typically shut away in the kitchen frying batch after batch of latkes, this year’s more intimate gatherings will ensure that no one is left behind wiping the oil off their brows while everyone else tucks in.

  1. Watch a new Israeli TV show

We suppose that the upside of this whole Covid lockdown thing is that we are required by law to stay home in our pajamas and watch TV. And the possibilities are endless. Whether you’ve got a bit of catching up to do on Netflix blockbuster Fauda or haven’t gotten round to seeing Tehran, now is your chance. Check out more recommendations for great Israeli television here.

  1. Treat your loved ones near and far to a gift

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As every child knows, Hanukkah is all about presents – whether that’s one, big all-encompassing gift or eight smaller ones to mark each day of the holiday. A global pandemic most definitely does not need to get in the way of fun traditions, and you can choose the perfect gift to be shipped to your loved ones all the way from Israel. Tel Aviv-themed bedsheets, anyone?

  1. Make your own edible gifts

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In a pandemic year marked by a massive return to the kitchen (remember those sourdough days?), nothing could be more appropriate than gifting your loved ones with a homemade treat or two. Check out Jessica Halfin’s recipes for marinated Galilean olives, Turkish coffee liqueur and cranberry pistachio halva for some delicious inspiration. Don’t forget to leave some for yourself, too.

  1. Bone up on the holiday

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Again, curfew, lockdown, social distancing and all the other buzzwords that made their way into our lives this year have left us with more time at home than usual. And if the thought of watching yet another episode of TV leaves you feeling dreary, use your time in a supposedly more constructive way and buff up on our fun Hanukkah facts. Not only will you be full of wonderful new knowledge, but you’ll also be able to show it off on your family’s Zoom get-together.

  1. Get nostalgic about past Hanukkahs
Jewish volunteers of the British Auxiliary Territorial Service celebrate Hanukkah in Cairo, Egypt, in 1942. (Kluger Zoltan/GPO)

For a sense of perspective and to reassure ourselves that this too shall pass, check out our collection of nostalgic Israeli Hanukkah celebrations. Photos of Israelis lighting candles in immigrant camps, wars, times of crisis and the very nascent stages of this country all serve to show how far we’ve come and the exciting opportunities that the future holds in store.

  1. Spin a sevivon
Get down on the floor and enjoy spinning a few dreidels. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90

Even if your Hanukkah celebrations are child-free this year, you can still get down on the floor and enjoy a bit of fun spinning dreidels, or sevivonim as they’re known in Hebrew. Archeological evidence shows that spinning tops similar to the Hanukkah ones existed as early as 2000 BCE and were used across the world in gambling games. The Jewish connection probably originates in Germany, where the tradition of children spinning dreidels around Christmas time to win nuts was passed along to Jewish communities. Just don’t ruin the holiday spirit by getting too competitive.

  1. Have a stiff drink

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Enjoying a good drink is a must on every occasion, but this year’s unusual holiday really cries out to be accompanied by something strong. Wash down all those carbs with aniseed-flavored arak or Tel Aviv-inspired cocktails, or go all out and pair your donut with the right type of wine. Luckily, your in-laws won’t be there to raise their eyebrows.

  1. Don’t count calories

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Let’s see: This year we’ve experienced a global pandemic, social and political unrest, financial insecurity, sky-high anxiety and zero vacations abroad. What we’re trying to say is that now is really not the time to be counting calories. Enjoy all the latkes, donuts, chocolate and drinks that you like and simply pull out the most forgiving pair of sweatpants you own. It’s not like you’re going anywhere.