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Sufganiot | © StateofIsrael / Flickr
Sufganiot | © StateofIsrael / Flickr
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Things to Know If You're Travelling to Israel During Hanukkah

Picture of Reuben Lewis
Israel writer
Updated: 6 December 2017
Hanukkah is a special time of year to visit Israel. Traditions, such as menorah lightings and unlimited consumption of sufganiyot (doughnuts), are observed throughout the country and a plethora of Hanukkah-themed events take place during the eight-day Festival of Lights. If you’re visiting Israel over this period (December 12-20, 2017) but aren’t sure what to expect, then this guide should prove highly useful!

Everything still operates

This may be surprising for some, especially Jewish people in America, but Hanukkah is actually a fairly minor holiday in Israel. It is different in the Holy Land than it is in the United States, where it has adopted some kind of holy importance to match Christmas and ensure Jewish kids don’t feel left out during the December period. This was never replicated in Israel, and as a result, you can expect everything to continue operating as usual, from public transport to restaurants.

Say goodbye to your diet

In Israel, sufganiyot (donuts) are eaten in alarming quantities during this eight-day holiday – it is a Hanukkah tradition. Supermarkets, cafes, restaurants and bakeries will all be selling these deep-fried delights, some up to a month in advance, and there’s no point in trying to refrain yourself from giving in. You’re going to crack, and you should be okay with that.

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Expect lots of light displays

Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights, after all. All over the country, there will be public candle lightings and most houses, restaurants and bars will have a menorah on their window sill – a tradition to ensure people passing by your home see you are celebrating Hanukkah. Walk through Jerusalem’s Jewish neighbourhoods at night (such as Mea Shearim and Geula) and be enchanted by the oil lamps on their window sills flickering in the darkness.

…And festivities

During the eight-day holiday, there will be a plethora of Hanukkah-themed events throughout Israel. From theatrical productions (such as Festigal in Tel Aviv), museum exhibitions and dance shows (many of which will be in Jerusalem), you will not be lacking options as far as festivities are concerned. For those keen to explore Israel’s nightlife during Hanukkah, head to Tel Aviv for street parties and endless club nights dedicated to the Festival of Lights.

It will be busier, but it’s nothing to worry about

As kids get the week off school, public areas will most likely be busier during Hanukkah, but this should not deter you from travelling to Israel during this festive period! Despite the festivities, this is a low-key holiday in Israel: you will not find hordes of people lining the streets and there will actually be fewer tourists, due to the fact most will be saving money and staying home for Christmas.

Why not extend your trip and experience Christmas in Israel?

Hanukkah in 2017 begins on December 12 and ends on December 20. However, for those without time constraints, it will be well worth extending your trip by a week to experience Christmas in Israel. We recommend heading to Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. Located in Israel’s north, this charming, ancient city is inhabited largely by Arab Christians and is a special place to be during Christmas, with its impressive street parade, Christmas decorations and joyous atmosphere.