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Every winter, for eight nights, the worldwide Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah (also sometimes spelled Chanukah) — a joyous holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. At that time, one night’s worth of oil miraculously burned in a lamp for eight nights, and ever since, the ritual of lighting eight candles on the menorah became a major part of the season.
Today, public lightings of giant menorahs (many of which double as public art) is a key part of festivities all around the world, along with traditional foods and song. Some places have put their own spin on Hanukkah celebrations: In Chattanooga, Tennessee, you can ring in the holiday with some Hanukkah ice skating, while Miami Beach incorporates hundreds of seashells into their oversized decor.
As the world continues to adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, celebrations this year will not be quite as communal — but the holiday will be just as meaningful. Read on to learn about the 20 best places to celebrate Hanukkah around the world.
A thriving Jewish community calls Antwerp’s Diamond District home, which makes it one of the best places in Belgium to celebrate the season. Like many cities, Antwerp’s public menorah lighting is the anchor of the holiday for many, drawing hundreds of locals to honor the miracle of light. But the area is also renowned for its Jewish bakeries, restaurants, and grocers, and locals and tourists alike take advantage of the traditional seasonal delights on offer.
Atlanta isn’t content with just one oversized menorah. Residents have plenty of options for larger-than-life celebrations for all eight days of the Festival of Lights throughout the city. Festivities take place at Decatur Square, the Botanical Garden, City Hall, and several universities. Most are family-friendly affairs and include crafts, latkes, doughnuts, live entertainment — and, yes, giant menorah lightings. For a more grown up celebration of the season, the Young Jewish Professionals association also hosts a "drinks and dreidels" party, offering upscale cheese platters, cocktails, music, and more.
Hanukkah is both a celebratory and contemplative time in Germany. The largest menorah in Europe stands at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, and each year the lighting ceremony (often involving Holocaust survivors) not only honors the holiday, but also reflects on how far Judaism has come in the region. Of course, there is plenty to celebrate, and Berliners know just how to do it: The German capital also hosts a yearly Yiddish festival around the time of Hanukkah. During Shtetl Berlin, attendees take in five days of food, dance, concerts, workshops, films, and even live, impromptu jam sessions with a diverse community of Yiddish artists.
The largest menorah in New England is lit every year in Copley Square by a roster of some of Boston’s best-known faces and institutions. And they’re not just politicians — Boston Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster and performers from the esteemed Berklee College of Music have joined in the past. Some of the city’s best-known cultural establishments also offer enriching annual Hanukkah events. For example, the Museum of Fine Arts offers attendees a chance to enjoy the lighting of a custom-made menorah, make their own traditional crafts and fried desserts, enjoy live Jewish folk and klezmer music, and take a tour of the sacred artifacts in their collection.
The Quarter 6 Quarter 7 Festival, named for Budapest's historic Jewish quarters, takes over the entire city for Hanukkah’s eight nights. The celebrations include special restaurant menus, klezmer concerts, theater performances, and more. Here, the Festival of Lights takes a more inclusive route — it’s more a broadly cultural festival than it is strictly a religious one. One of the standout events is the center-ice menorah lighting: On the first night of Hanukkah, rabbis lace up at the Budapest City Park Ice Rink to light a big menorah as revelers watch on, with the beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle looming in the background.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentina is home to the largest Jewish population in Latin America. The majority of the community live in the capital city of Buenos Aires, where the warm weather (Hanukkah happens during summer in the Southern Hemisphere) lends itself nicely to lively celebrations. Typically, more than 3,000 people attend the festive menorah lighting at La Plaza República Oriental del Uruguay. The live concert, special guests, light shows, and fireworks make it a favorite spectacle for locals. Buenos Aires also has an abundance of tasty Jewish cuisine on offer — while there are indeed many kosher bakeries and restaurants, parts of the city are also gaining popularity for their modern and regional take on Jewish delicacies such as latkes, knishes (small potato pies), and blintzes (cheese-filled crepes).
The weather cools down in Chattanooga just in time for the Jewish community to strap on their skates and head to the On the Landing outdoor ice rink, where the grand menorah is lit to kick off the season. The lighting is the culmination of one of the most unique celebrations in the country. First, a long-standing car menorah parade makes its way throughout the city before heading to the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the one-time train station turned outdoor ice rink. That’s where the main menorah — which happens to be an immaculate ice carving — is lit for spectators and skaters alike. The ice comes to life as celebrations continue with latkes, donuts, and plenty of revelry.
Gold Coast, Australia
If you’ve dreamed of having Hanukkah in the hot sun, Australia is the place for you, and the Gold Coast’s block-party-blowout Chanukah In the Park is the place to be. Of course, no public Hanukkah celebration would be complete without a giant menorah lighting, but that’s just the beginning. With rides, live camels, bumper cars, fireworks, face painting, music, dancing, and performance artists, Hanukkah In the Park feels more like a midway than a holy holiday.
One of the best places to celebrate Hanukkah is right where it all began. The holiday is especially significant in Jerusalem, given that the Second Temple is located here (along with many other sites central to Jewish history), and can be visited on special Hanukkah tours. But the Holy Land also has one of the most robust eight-night celebrations around the world. There are walking tours of homes and the menorahs in their windows; fresh sufganiyot (the traditional Hanukkah jelly doughnut) at the many bakeries all around the city; plenty of activities for kids, who are out of school for the week; and, of course, the iconic public menorah-lighting ceremony, which takes place every night of the holiday at the Kotel (Western Wall).
Located in Trafalgar Square, London’s towering triangular menorah is a standout piece of public art and a staple of the city’s celebrations. The statue’s public lighting ceremony takes place on the first day of Hanukkah (and stays lit every day thereafter), and has drawn upwards of 4,500 people to revel in its light. Other popular public parties also take place in London — both Islington Green and the Jewish Museum host menorah lightings and offer entertainment and snacks — but Hanukkah in the Square is the main attraction for the city, with live music and celebratory dancing happening all around as thousands nosh on the free fried doughnuts handed out to all.
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles is chock full of fun and popular events for the season. Along with plenty of public menorah lighting celebrations (including a new annual one on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) and events at the Skirball Cultural Center (a Jewish heritage educational organization), the city also hosts a car menorah parade. The city has also branched out into more modern and inclusive celebrations over the past few years. The Infinite Light festival aims to engage young adults with impactful experiences; in years’ past, this has included acts of community service, workshops, and even a self-defense class whose mission was to explore themes of resilience that are relevant to not only the holiday, but Jewish culture at large.
Miami Beach, Florida
Miami Beach puts its own spin on Hanukkah with a famous giant menorah and dreidel (a spinning top employed for the traditional Hanukkah game) that are both made out of seashells. Located at Lincoln Road Mall, the creations are courtesy of local musician and activist Roger Abramson. In 2001, after similar Hanukkah sculptures made out of concrete and wood were damaged and removed, Abramson decided to recreate them using shells mostly collected from the shores of Miami Beach. Each statue consists of more than 35,000 seashells and weighs almost 2,000 pounds. They’re a true labor of love for the music-industry vet, who replaces and reinforces shells as needed every year — and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Tourists from all walks of life trek to the sculptures for selfies when Hanukkah rolls around, and the menorah and dreidel stake their roadside claim.
While Morocco no longer has a large Jewish population, the remaining community celebrates the eight days of candle lighting similarly to many other places in the world. The festivities, however, tend to be held primarily in the home, and food is a focal point during the holiday in the North African country. Many of the most-enjoyed dishes derive from traditional Hanukkah techniques, but with a Moroccan twist. On the third night, for instance, it’s traditional to eat sfenj, a fried doughnut that is dusted with sugar and infused with the zest and juice of the oranges that are in season.
It may come as a surprise that Hanukkah festivities abound in India, where a sizable Jewish community is concentrated in the city of Mumbai. And while their celebrations might look a little different than they do elsewhere, they nonetheless come from the same history and traditions. Instead of the candles often seen on menorahs, oil lamps are used to create roaring flames atop the huge menorah in front of the iconic Gateway of India arch monument. Additionally, the traditional treats of the Hanukkah season are adapted from Indian cuisine — instead of the sufganiyot jelly doughnuts, residents enjoy fried gulab jamun, and instead of latkes, some prefer to indulge in onion pakoras.
New York, New York
There may not actually be a Big Apple in New York City, but there does happen to be a giant menorah — the world’s largest, in fact, standing 32 feet tall and weighing 4,000 pounds. The lighting ceremony at Fifth Avenue near Central Park is a Hanukkah highlight every year. Across the East River, in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, there stands a similarly sized menorah (and a friendly rival to the one in Manhattan), where a kickoff concert is held prior to the lighting on Hanukkah’s first night. Each night thereafter features more live music and delicious latkes, the traditional Jewish potato pancake. Along with the two well-known lighting ceremonies, New York hosts plenty of other Hanukkah celebrations including dreidel competitions, elaborate dinners, and even a Hanukkah-themed burlesque show.
The first night of Hanukkah in Philadelphia kicks off with candle lightings all over the city, including the focal point of the night, the beautiful giant menorah at Rittenhouse Square. All throughout the Festival of Lights, Franklin Square dazzles with more than 80,000 festive lights as part of the Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show. If the adults are looking for a more refined celebration, some of Philly’s finer dining establishments offer irresistible special menus built around traditional Hanukkah foods — think creamy Yukon Gold potato soup served with crispy golden latkes.
Rome’s historic Jewish quarter is a hub of lively celebrations during the Festival of Lights. Every year in Piazza Barberini, a 20-foot-tall menorah is lit each night throughout the eight-night observance. Locals love the ceremony not only for its religious significance, but for the big finale — at the end of Hanukkah, the streets flood with people enjoying food, drinks, music, and plenty of dancing. (There is also a smaller menorah lighting at Piazza Bologna for those who wish to observe the holiday in more relative peace and quiet). Romans also enjoy a local take on fried traditional Jewish delicacies throughout the week, including fritters with olive oil, anise, dried fruits, and honey.
San Antonio, Texas
A Hanukkah celebration would feel incomplete without a menorah-lighting ceremony, but in San Antonio, they do things a little differently. Since 1998, the city has celebrated the Festival of Lights with a boat parade through the San Antonio River called Chanukah on the River, one of the largest Jewish celebrations in Texas. Fellow revelers take it all in from the famed River Walk, a beautiful city park that sits one story beneath the main streets, as boats deliver live, interactive entertainment from the water. When you’re ready to settle into a more traditional take on the holiday, San Antonio’s cultural and dining hotspot, known as Pearl, hosts a nightly public menorah lighting.
San Francisco, California
You can thank San Francisco for bringing the tradition of lighting giant public menorahs to America. The first event here was the brainchild of Rabbi Chaim Itche Drizin, who long worked to build local prominence for the Jewish community, together with famous rock 'n' roll concert promoter (and Holocaust survivor) Bill Graham, who used his connections to pull off the idea. In 1975, more than 1,000 Jewish revelers gathered in Union Square to witness the occasion — today, of course, giant menorahs are part of celebrations around the world. The tradition continues to burn bright in San Francisco, where the season kicks off with a big celebration during the lighting of the 25-foot-tall candelabra.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Israel’s central role in Hanukkah’s history means that Tel Aviv is yet another great place (besides Jerusalem) in the country to observe the holiday. The public menorah lighting at Independence Park, overlooking Hilton Beach, is one of the biggest and best ways to celebrate the Festival of Lights with the community. The city is also known for its creative and colorful depictions of the traditional menorah — interpretations over the years have included 28-foot-tall aerial platforms lit up like rainbows, a giant floating electric candle display looking over the city’s Port (courtesy of the Israel Electric Company), and abstract art installations as part of the Nightlight Festival. Because Hanukkah is a public holiday in Israel, kids are out of school for the week, and there are several options for keeping them busy, including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s creative programming for little ones.