The holidays are looking a little different this year, but there’s still plenty of ways to celebrate! We spoke with two of our #AerieREAL Ambassadors who are celebrating Hanukkah this holiday season. Read on below to read more about Ashleigh and Chelsea’s fave traditions and see how they’re keeping the spirit alive.

What is your favorite Hanukkah tradition?

A: In a year filled with so much darkness and uncertainty, this Hanukkah feels extra special. Hanukkah is a holiday that centers around love, light and survival–three things that have become such important themes during 2020. Although I may not be able to host friends and family like normal, I’m reminded that there are so many traditions that still continue. Each year, my family and I gather around to light our hanukkiah–or menorah, and eat lots of foods that are made with or fried in oil! The oil stems back from the original story of Hanukkah. To make a long story very short, a tiny bit of oil that should have only lasted one night miraculously lasted 8 nights (that’s why Hanukkah is an 8 night celebration and is often referred to as the festival of lights!)

C: My favorite Hanukkah tradition is making homemade latkes! Latkes were actually the first thing I learned to make by myself on the stove. The process is equally challenging and rewarding, especially when the final outcome is complete and ready to be served. Latkes are delicious and can be paired with a lot of different things – I personally love to eat them with sour cream, but others enjoy them with applesauce.

What does the Hanukkah celebration usually look like for your family?

A: It’s a rather simple holiday but all of my memories are centered around the kitchen. My partner and I love to make latkes together and then debate if they’re better eaten with sour cream or with applesauce. I’m team savory and he’s team sweet! 

C: Typically, my family’s Hanukkah celebration is very intimate. I usually go to my parent’s house with my siblings and our grandparents. Although the holiday is eight days long, we have to wait until sundown each night to light the candles. To begin each night, my mom and grandma make a delicious home cooked dinner and we all sit together as a family to enjoy. My grandfather is big on sweets, so he supplies the dessert, which is called Sufganiyot (jelly donuts!) After everything is cleaned up from dinner, we light the candles. In my family, it’s a tradition for the youngest family member (as long as they’re old enough) to help light the candles. If you’re not familiar with the menorah, there are actually nine candle spots. The ninth candle is called a Shamash, also known as “helper” and it’s meant to be lit first and is used to light the rest of the candles for the specific night of Hanukkah. An adult would always light the Shamash and then pass it off to the youngest family member to light the remaining candles. After we light the candles and say our Hanukkah prayer we then exchange presents! My family would usually save the biggest present until the eighth night at the grand finale. Lastly, after our gift exchange, we play a fun game of Dreidel (or, at the very least, we have a competition to see who can roll their Dreidel the longest).

If celebrating looks different for you this year, how so and how do you plan on keeping the Hanukkah spirit alive?

A: Alongside our latkes, my favorite Hanukkah tradition stems from my Italian heritage. The classic dessert eaten during the holiday is called “sufganiyot” which is a jelly filled donut. The Italian twist is that I like making “frittelle” instead. Frittelle are homemade mini donut balls that are sprinkled with powdered sugar and they’re SO yummy! We have a family recipe that is so old that there aren’t any real measurements. This year I’m looking forward to facetiming with my mom so I can try and learn from her virtually!

C: This year, I will be celebrating differently for safety reasons amid the pandemic. My family’s health is very important to me, so I plan to continue to be socially distant despite the holiday. Luckily, I have a beautiful menorah of my own and plan to light the candles and say the prayer every night – comfortably in my blue and white Aerie sweaters may I add! I’ll also be making homemade latkes and introducing the great game of Dreidel to my roommate. My family plans to light the Menorah together virtually, too! This year I’m especially grateful for Facetime and gifts that can be delivered through the mail.

What’s a Hanukkah memory you’ll never forget?

A: As you can tell, food and family are the center of our Hanukkah traditions. One year I wanted to give my partner a really special and sentimental gift that he would treasure forever. It took some top secret-planning, but I was able to enlist the help of his mom to make my idea come to life. I asked her to write down all of their family recipes–in her own handwriting. I then compiled the recipes along with family photos and turned them into a scrapbook style cookbook. It was such a meaningful experience to collaborate on this heartfelt project and he was so incredibly surprised! To this day it’s my absolute favorite Hanukkah memory.

To those who celebrate, Happy Hanukkah! I hope that your homes are filled with lots of love and light!

C: I have a ton, but one that sticks out to me was my very first Hanukkah away from home when I was in college. It was a hard few months for me because I had never been away from my family for so long, and that year Hanukkah was early in December, so it didn’t overlap with my university’s winter break. Being hundreds of miles away from my family during the holiday was a struggle, but I learned that a few of my acquaintances were Jewish and celebrated,  too. Growing up Jewish, I knew that I was always the minority religion, so I was pleasantly surprised and excited to learn that I wasn’t alone! A friend invited me over for a college-style Hanukkah celebration where we ordered-in dinner, lit the Menorah and played games. It was the first time I really felt connected to others since moving away from home, and now those girls are still some of my closest friends!

How are you celebrating Hanukkah this year? Comment below & tell us!

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