Hanukkah is a time for celebration. And there are dozens of ways to have fun in Israel during the Festival of Lights, starting this year on the night of December 24.

Just about every theater company in the country is offering special deals to woo audiences, and museums are featuring interactive exhibits and holiday-themed displays.

Bakeries are brimming with sufganiyot (donuts) — by far the most popular Hanukkah food in Israel. Every year, Israelis eat a whopping 24 million of these calorie-heavy, sugar-covered fried treats made especially for the holiday.

This year, Burger King’s Israel franchise has even added the “Sufganiking” to its menu. The Whopper burger on a donut bun will be on sale at all local chains December 25-January 1, at a cost of $4.

Whether you’d prefer to eat holiday foods or get cultured, there are oodles of ways to feel the holiday spirit. In honor of the eight days of the holiday, ISRAEL21c brings you eight ideas for Hanukkah fun in Israel.

Hanukkiah lights in Jerusalem

Children singing after lighting a hanukkiah in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo by Yael Harman
Children singing after lighting a hanukkiah in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo by Yael Harman

Hanukkah’s moniker as the Festival of Lights is best experienced in Jerusalem. People from all over the country – as well as tourists from abroad – come to view the hanukkiyot (Hanukkah menorahs) flickering on windowsills.

Take a self-guided tour or follow a guide from the Jewish Quarter Preservation and Development Company on a Hanukkah tour (December 25-29, 2016) through the Old City. Or, take a walk through the religious neighborhoods of Geula, Nachlaot or Mea Shearim to see the oil lamps alight at night. (In Jerusalem, people tend to use oil lights rather than candles.)

Make sufganiyot like a pro

Sufganiyot for Hanukkah. Photo via Shutterstock.com
Sufganiyot for Hanukkah. Photo via Shutterstock.com

Hanukkah in Israel means donuts! And while choosing which donut to sample is a fun-filled activity in itself, making them is that much better. Roladin bakery chain and Saidels Artisan Baking Institute run hands-in-the-dough family-oriented workshops on how to mix, cut, fry and fill sufganiyot of every kind. Saidels also hosts a Donut Olympics competition for the best decorated donut.

This is no time to count calories. Hanukkah foods are usually fried in oil to remember the Maccabees’ victory over their oppressors and that one flask of oil miraculously burned for eight days in the rededicated Temple in Jerusalem.

Dreidel-spinning contest (Dec. 26-Jan. 1)

Photo of dreidels by Mordechai Meiri/Shutterstock.com
Photo of dreidels by Mordechai Meiri/Shutterstock.com

Get your spinning finger ready: It’s time to prove to other families that you have the best spin in town. The dreidel-spinning contest is one of a handful of Hanukkah-related activities taking place at the Clore Garden of Science at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot.

The dreidel (a special spinning top for Hanukkah) features four Hebrew letters. In Israel, the letters are Nun, Gimel, Hay and Peh. The tradition of playing with dreidels is to remind us of when the ancient Greeks forbade Jews to learn Torah. Tradition holds that kids used to meet up in secret to learn, but if a Greek soldier approached they would pretend to be gambling with their dreidels.

Light a candle with everyone

Children light candles for the fourth night of Hanukkah, December 9,2015. Photo by Esther Rubyan/FLASH90
Children light candles for the fourth night of Hanukkah, December 9,2015. Photo by Esther Rubyan/FLASH90

Public candle-lighting ceremonies take place on street corners, in central tourist spots and at landmarks in cities. For visitors and locals alike, singing Hanukkah songs and sharing the candle-lighting ceremony creates a unique atmosphere. If Chabad of Israel is organizing the public lighting, jelly sufganiyot will surely be on hand as well. Municipalities, synagogues and neighborhood committees also host public lightings.

Or head over to the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood in Tel Aviv for the two-night (December 22 and 24) candle-lighting street party. On the bill: dozens of performances, light installations and projections, music shows and engaged-art in public and private spaces. There will also be a smorgasbord of food offerings from the Philippines, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia and China – paying tribute to the people who today call this neighborhood home.

Culture in the desert

Rocking out to Israeli music in the desert is a special Hanukkah activity. Choose between the 18th Tzlilim Ba’Midbar (Desert Sounds) festival (Dec. 28-31) in Sde Boker or the Intimidbar happening (Dec. 22-27) in Mitzpeh Ramon. Or take part in both – one after the other.

Intimidbar is an arts festival that includes special Hanukkah shows – theater and music for children – alongside yoga, crafts workshops and lectures. Desert Sounds serves up music from every style, with a focus on Israeli creativity. Both festivals include dozens of free events.

Hanukkah at the museum

Hanukkah at the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem. Photo by Avi Hayun
Hanukkah at the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem. Photo by Avi Hayun

Exhibits dedicated to light take over the country’s museums during the Festival of Lights. There are too many to list but the cream of the crop include: MakeLight annual exhibit at the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem featuring games in light and shadow displays; the Israel Museum in Jerusalem’s Hanukkah workshops (Dec. 26-29) for kids of all ages as well as excerpts from the international show “Aluminum” – a performance that combines theater, dance and humor; Hanukkah-themed workshops (Dec. 26-29) at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, including a treasure hunt for holiday candles hidden among the museum’s artworks; space-themed Hanukkah activities at Technoda science museum in Hadera; Hanukkah-themed exhibits at the Israeli Children’s Museum; a Hanukkah challenge tour at the Tower of David Museum; and a week of Hanukkah culture and art activities (Dec. 27-31) at the Janco Dada Museum in Ein Hod.

Hanukkah takes the stage

Festigal is eagerly awaited by young Israelis all year. Photo: courtesy
Festigal is eagerly awaited by young Israelis all year. Photo: courtesy

The theater community in Israel works overtime during Hanukkah due to a local tradition of seeing a play during the holiday. The Festigal song-and-dance show held every year since 1981 at Hanukkah time is such a popular musical that it lays the soundtrack for families for the months to come. Shows are taking place in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheva, Dec. 3-Jan. 16.

Library Lion at the Mediatheque in Holon. Photo Beni Gam Zo Le'Tovah
Library Lion at the Mediatheque in Holon. Photo by Bni Gam Zo Le’Tovah

For something with more educational value, try the annual Hanukkah week-long theater festival at the Orna Porat Theater for Children and Youth in Givatayim. This senior repertory theater has 22 productions set for this year (Dec. 26-Jan. 1).

The Mediatheque in Holon also serves up educational theater for the younger crew with the likes of Library Lion, The Cat in the Hat, and The Prince and the Pauper offered throughout the Hanukkah holiday.

Hanukkah also is the time for Adraba, the traveling theatrical music show by Mayumana for children. There are also dozens of performances to catch at museums, playhouses, and even at shopping malls.

Wine tasting

Psagot Winery raises a glass to Hanukkah. Courtesy photo
Psagot Winery raises a glass to Hanukkah. Courtesy photo

While there is no custom of drinking wine during this festival, the country’s wineries are nonetheless hoping to give wine lovers something to raise a glass to during Hanukkah.

Tzuba Estate Winery in the Judean Hills has a special Hanukkah week of special prices and wine tours. Psagot Winery in Binyamin is promoting free wine tastings during the Hanukkah festival as well as deals on its red wines.

Tulip Winery, which recently saw its Black Tulip wine named among 2016’s Best 3 Wines by Wine Advocate, hosts wine tastings and hanukkiah lighting with members of the Kfar Tikva community in which it is located. Kfar Tikva – the “Village of Hope” — is an inclusive kibbutz-like community for some 200 adults with developmental and emotional disabilities.

L’chaim and happy Hanukkah!