Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that occurs in late autumn or early winter. The holiday, sometimes referred to as the Festival of Lights, is eight days long and celebrates the miracle of a single night's worth of oil lasting for eight nights. It also celebrates the victory of the Maccabees against those who were trying to persecute them. Celebrations of the holiday traditionally include lighting candles, giving of money (called gelt), eating fried foods such as potato latkes and donuts, and playing driedel. In many families, the traditions have been extended to include the sending of cards and giving of presents since the holiday occurs at a similar time of year as Christmas.
While it is not necessary to send Hanukkah cards to your Jewish friends, it is certainly a nice sentiment and a handmade Hanukkah card will always be appreciated. Whether you are Jewish or not, the tips here should give you some ideas and help you feel comfortable making your own Hanukkah cards.
The Hebrew word for Hanukkah starts with a Hebrew letter for which there is no English equivalent. Thus people spell the name of the holiday a number of ways including Hanukkah (the traditional secular spelling), Chanukah (more popular among Jewish families), Chanuka, Hanuka, Hanukah, etc. If you manage to find products (paper, stamps, stickers) specific to the holiday, it is fine to use whatever spelling is on your product. Otherwise, I suggest choosing the one you are most comfortable with.
The Hanukkah Menorah holds nine candles; there are eight regular candles which are the same height and one other candle, called the Shamash, which is a different height. The Shamash is used to light the other candles. Some menorahs burn oil rather than candles. Note that the seven-candle menorah is also a Jewish symbol, but not specific to Hanukkah. The menorah is a nice symbol to use on a Hanukkah card and can be easily photographed, pieced together, or stamped.
Another symbol of the holiday is the dreidel. It is a top with four sides, each of which has a Hebrew letter:
These letters stand for the words: "Nes Gadol Hayah Sham" which means "A great miracle happened there." In Israel, the word "Here" is used rather than "There" and the Hebrew letters are:
Dreidels can be easily paper-pieced together or stamped, with or without the Hebrew letters. If you would like to use the Hebrew letters, they can be found under symbols in Microsoft Word. They can also be traced or hand-copied.
Another Jewish symbol is the Star of David, a six-pointed star made by overlapping two triangles. Although the Star of David is not specific to Hanukkah, it is perfectly appropriate to use on a Hanukkah card.
Other symbols appropriate for the holiday are coins (gelt), gifts, and potato pancakes (latkes). It is fine to use an image of one of these on a card as well.
There are many sentiments that can be written on a Hanukkah card. As with any card, they can be on the front or inside. One place to find sentiments is from traditional songs; here are some suggestions:
- One for each night, they spread a sweet light and remind us of days long ago.
- One for each night
- Dreidel, Driedel, Dreidel
If you would like to use a religious sentiment, a translation of the candle blessing is: "Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has commanded us to kindle the lights of the Holiday."
Some other sentiments that can be used are:
- A great miracle happened there.
- Happy Hanukkah or Happy Chanuka
- Festival of Lights
- Lighting the menorah
- 8 Candles
- As you kindle the lights of the holiday
- Happy Hanukkah to you and your family
The most traditional colors for Hanukkah are blue and white, most traditionally a medium blue or dark blue. Some people prefer to use gray, gold, or silver instead of white, which also gives a traditional feel. However, other color schemes are fine, here are a few colorful examples:
Secular Items and Cautions
There are a few things that are best avoided when making Hanukkah cards. Most importantly, don't make the card feel like a Christmas card. For example, don't use a red and green color scheme. Likewise, don't use Christmas trees or wreaths on the card and avoid words like "joyous" or "merry" that are typically associated with Christmas. Be careful of quoting the Bible; if you do, make sure you use the Old Testament and a Jewish translation. Be careful of mentioning God. Although many religions worship the same God, different religions use different terminology to speak about God. What seems like a simple phrase or blessing may make the recipient uncomfortable. Some Jewish people believe that God's name is so holy, it should not be written on paper.
On the other hand, it is fine to use secular items on a Hanukkah card as well, especially if the sender is not Jewish. Just as you don't want to make the recipient feel uncomfortable, the sender should not feel uncomfortable either. For example, although snowflakes and snowmen are not Hanukkah symbols either, they are fine to use, especially for people who live in cold climates. Similarly, it is fine to write Happy Holidays. It is also appropriate to wish the recipient a Happy New Year. Although the Jewish New Year occurs around September, most Jews celebrate the secular New Year as well.
Hanukkah is a fun holiday. Many families get together, have fun, and focus on the children. Making Hanukkah cards should be fun too. Hopefully, the information and examples provided here will help you feel more comfortable and give you ideas of how to make Hanukkah cards for the coming season.
The author would like to thank Debby Abraham from Israel who contributed many beautiful cards in this article (the card with stamped menorah, the card with the photographed menorah, Lighting the Menorah, and the card with the pink).