Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins after sunset on Tuesday, Dec. 12. It brings a bounty of good will, family fun, gifts of chocolate candy and fried foods.
The eight-day festival observed in Jewish homes also inspires a host of public events — from Hanukkah-themed shows to game-of-skill tournaments — at community centers, shopping plazas and even Long Island Rail Road stations.
“I pride myself that I get people of all faiths to celebrate with us,” says Rabbi Shalom Paltiel of the Chabad of Port Washington, whose congregation hosts one of Long Island’s largest public Hanukkah celebrations. Hanukkah has “an inclusive message for all people, that goodness prevails over evil, and a little light will dispel a whole lot of darkness,” Paltiel says.
Here are eight ways to join the Hanukkah festivities:
1. Watch the carving of an ice menorah
In Hanukkahs past, up to 1,000 spectators have come out to the Port Washington train station for the lighting of a 14-foot tall menorah, Paltiel says. This year a sculptor will carve a second menorah out of a big block of ice, which takes about 90 minutes. Food and music are part of any Hanukkah party, so try a latke, the traditional fried potato pancake, grab some gelt (chocolate shaped like a coin and wrapped in foil) and sing along with Port Washington’s Schreiber High School music honor society.
INFO 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12, at the Port Washington Long Island Rail Road station.
2. See the holidays — in lights
A 16-minute LED light show dazzles the eyes from thousands of lights strung on the shopping center buildings and promenade at the Plainview Shopping Centre. Park your car in the center’s lot and watch the magic, timed to Hanukkah songs and other holiday music. A menorah will be lit to begin the show on Wednesday, Dec. 13.
INFO 6:15 and 8:15 p.m. daily, Dec. 13-25 at 327-392 S. Oyster Bay Rd., Plainview
3. Go to a menorah parade
This year’s Great Menorah Parade in Merrick has a new twist — a Hanukkah Adventure Trail along the parade route with activities such as making your own wax candle or donating a toy for a needy child, says program director Chanie Kramer. The parade concludes with a 6:30 p.m. menorah lighting, a hot latkes and doughnut feast and a musical performance by the Chabad Hebrew School and Jewish Early Learning Center.
INFO 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13, parade from the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, 2174 Hewlett Ave., Merrick, to the Merrick Long Island Rail Road station, 516-833-3057, chabadjewishlife.org
4. Press olive oil
Learn how to press olive oil, a central ingredient in the Hanukkah story, decorate traditional Hanukkah jelly doughnuts and make latkes (potato pancakes), at this celebration for people of all ages. $10 admission.
INFO 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at The Chai Center, 501 Vanderbilt Pkwy., Dix Hills, 631-351-8672, thechaicenter.com
5. DIY doughnuts
An annual community Hanukkah celebration includes noshes, such as decorate-your-own doughnuts and fresh-fried potato latkes, a menorah lighting, music, dancing and arts and crafts for children. New this year: three escape rooms where contestants piece together clues to solve a mystery during the challenge. Admission is $25/family of four ($20 advance).
INFO 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Barry and Florence Friedberg Jewish Community Center, 15 Neil Court, Oceanside, 516-766-4341, friedbergjcc.org
6. Hit the Great Gelt Drop
Firefighters atop a Bay Shore Brightwaters Fire Department ladder truck will “rain down” traditional foil-covered chocolate coins — aka Hanukkah gelt — onto the crowd. Down on the ground, the Chabad of Islip Township provides the latkes, doughnuts and live Jewish holiday music.
INFO 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at the head of Brightwaters Canal, Montauk Highway, Brightwaters, 631-913-8770, chabadofislip.com
7. Play in game tournaments
Enjoy an afternoon of fun, games, doughnuts and pizza in a big room decorated for Hanukkah. Test your game skills in chess and dreidel tournaments, or bring your own board game for a bit of competitive socializing. Admission is $10, preregistration required.
INFO 4:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at Town of Oyster Bay Chabad, 678 Woodbury Rd., Woodbury, 516-682-0404, jewishtob.org
8. Enter the World Series of Dreidels
Last year, more than 100 people participated in this spinoff of the traditional game played during Hanukkah’s eight days, according to Katy Kreiner, the Mid-Island Y JCC’s youth programming supervisor. Family teams compete by spinning the small four-sided top with Hebrew letters on its sides. Winners take home Hanukkah gelt, prizes and trophies. Admission is $40 for nonmember families.
INFO 6:15-8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 19, at 45 Manetto Hill Rd., Plainview, 516-822-3535, miyjcc.org