Israel is a Jewish state, so the Jewish majority does not celebrate Christmas. They celebrate Hanukkah instead. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, because in each synagogue, a holy lamp burns above Jewish scriptures. The light represents a symbol, being the strength of God. The festival is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, and may occur from late November to late December according to the Gregorian calendar.
Hanukkah in Israel is celebrated by the kindling of the lights of a special candelabrum, the nine-branched Hanukiah, one light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. Eight candles represent the days the oil of the temple lamp lasted and the ninth candle is a helping one, used to light the rest. The candles are lit just after the sun goes down and families sing a Hanukkah song while watching them burn.
During the whole festival Israeli people sing various songs and play games in the light of the Menorah. Among other traditions is playing Dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top with a Hebrew letter on each side. Most people play for matchsticks, pennies or chocolate coins. The traditional explanation of this game is that during the time of Antiochus’ oppression, those who wanted to study Torah, that was illegal, would conceal their activity by playing gambling games with a top whenever an official or inspector was within sight.
On Hanukkah in Israel it is customary to eat fried foods because of the significance of oil to the holiday. Latkes (potato pancakes), jelly doughnuts and many other treats fried in oil are particularly enjoyed during Hanukkah.
Like many other Jewish holidays, Hanukkah in Israel is a special time for families to be together, celebrate the festivities of joy and thanksgiving and exchange Hanukkah gifts. Personal gifts for Hanukkah are quite accepted, while before giving a business gift for Hanukkah you’d better wait until you are reasonably acquainted with a recipient. The safest choice is a flower basket, chocolate basket or fruit basket. When selecting a gourmet basket or a wine/champagne basket, make sure that your Hanukkah gift to Israel is compatible with the recipient’s religious beliefs. For example, gourmet gifts for observant Orthodox Jews must be kosher. If the recipient has children, acknowledging them with a small gift, chocolate or plush toy, will be also appreciated.
Show your consideration and respect while choosing a Hanukkah gift for your nearest and dearest or business associates and they are sure to be pleased with your choice!