4 Simple Ways to Celebrate a Spectacularly Vegan Hanukkah

Hanukkah is the yearly Jewish “Festival of Lights.” For Jews who are also vegan, it’s a time to honor religious tradition while creating cruelty-free versions of traditional foods. These days, it’s easy to do both — and to do them spectacularly.

Hanukkah — sometimes spelled Chanukkah — is an eight-day winter festival celebrating the rededication of the Great Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees after its desecration by the Syrians in 165 B.C.E. While the Jews cleaned and repurified their temple, they realized they had only enough unsullied olive oil to fuel the menorah for a single day.

Miraculously, though, that oil lasted eight days. Through the years, Jews have celebrated Hanukkah with eight days of special meals and prayers to commemorate this miracle. Some of the foods and traditions of Hanukkah are decidedly not cruelty-free, but they can be made so.

1. Use Bee-Free Candles in Your Menorah

menorah

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Perhaps the most visually stunning aspect of Hanukkah is the brightly burning menorah — more traditionally called the “hanukkiah.” Jews light these beautiful candles on each of eight nights to represent the miracle of the oil. They traditionally sit in a window or doorway for this purpose.

Custom dictates that the menorah candles must be made of beeswax. If you’re both an ethical vegan and Jewish, though, the idea of harming bees for those candles probably bothers you.

The easy answer, of course, is to opt for vegetable wax or soy Hanukkah candles. They’re readily available these days, so there’s no reason not to use them.

2. Make Vegan Latkes

latkes

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Good food is an essential part of the celebration of Hanukkah. Latkes are the quintessential celebratory food, much loved by Jewish families. Latkes are a type of pancake made of shredded potatoes and eggs, fried in oil. The word “latke” is Yiddish for “pancake.”

Fried or oily foods are popular at Hanukkah because the oil commemorates the miracle of the long-lasting menorah oil in the temple. For vegans, oil isn’t necessarily an issue. It’s the eggs. Luckily, there are many vegan latke recipes in cookbooks and online, just waiting for you to give them a whirl.

Latkes are traditionally eaten with applesauce and/or sour cream. The sour cream is symbolic, too. It commemorates the story of Judith. She fed a milk-based meal to Syrian Greek general Holofernes, who had cut off water to the Jewish village of Bethulia during a battle to conquer Judea. The meal lulled him to sleep, and Judith beheaded the general.

To keep this meal vegan, nix the milk-based sour cream and go for a dairy-free variety like Follow Your Heart or Tofutti. The other alternative is to make your own.

3. Veganize Those Jelly Doughnuts

jelly doughnut

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Yes, Hanukkah’s a time to chow down on those delicious celebratory jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot. They’re round deep-fried wonders filled with jam or custard and topped with powdered sugar. Can you imagine eight days of doughnuts? Please, they’re to die for.

Traditional recipes call for milk and eggs, but vegan recipes are just as scrumptious. Get the animal products out of your sufganiyot and enjoy a guilt-free sweet treat.

4. Make That Chocolate Gelt Animal-Friendly

gelt

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Jewish families often give children the gift of “gelt” at Hanukkah. Gelt is money, given instead of — or in addition to — other gifts. Often the expectation is that children will then donate that money to charity.

In the early 20th century, it became popular to give very young children chocolate coins, rather than real money. Today, giving gold foil-wrapped chocolate gelt is a popular Hanukkah tradition. The coins can even be used to play dreidel.

There’s no need for those chocolate coins to be made with milk, of course. Chocolatiers now make egg-free, nut-free and dairy-free gelt for this holiday. They can be found online with a quick Google search.

Today, if you’re Jewish and vegan, it’s incredibly easy to celebrate Hanukkah in a way that satisfies both your religious and ethical needs. You don’t have to harm animals to acknowledge and commemorate your Jewish heritage.

Photo credit: Getty Images

53 comments

Joan E
Joan E2 days ago

I know plenty of Jewish vegans. I live in Los Angeles.

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Jan K
Jan K3 days ago

Thank you

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Karen Martinez
Karen Martinez4 days ago

Interesting article. Thank you for sharing it.

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John W
John W5 days ago

TYFST

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Joan E
Joan E6 days ago

Foteini, you make a good point, but vegans are willing to make some compromises in their food, either to make it more healthful than usual supermarket food or because they don't want to hurt animals, or both. Vegans get used to vegan food. And some vegan food would seem delicious to almost everybody. We had a vegan Thanksgiving at a fancy restaurant, with crimini mushrooms with hazel nuts and wild rice and lots of other interesting choices.

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Leo C
Leo C6 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Sophie A
Sophie A6 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Shae Lee
Shae Lee6 days ago

Thank you.

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Leo C
Leo C7 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Leo C
Leo C8 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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