Happy Hanukkah everyone…my favourite holiday! I guess it’s because of all the fun we had as a kid. Coming together as a family, lighting the menorahs (especially when we were allowed to have our own!), potato latkes, games of dreidel and a few presents.
Of course once I became a pet parent I also started to see Hanukkah as – burning candles for eight nights, torn wrapping paper, discarded ribbon, dreidels spinning across the floor, jelly donuts, fried potato latkes with onions and chocolates in foil.
Wow, that’s a lot of hazards and what the heck is Hanukkah?
A Hanukkah story
For my beloved readers who aren’t familiar with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, or who have heard the term but don’t know the details, here’s a quick summary.
The Greeks destroyed the holy temple. A group of Jews called the Maccabees fought against the Greeks and won, even though they were fewer in number. The Jews cleaned up the temple and found only a very small bit of oil which they used to light the menorah, which miraculously burned for 8 days. Hence we light candles for 8 days.
The Hanukkah menorah
The candle holder is called a menorah. On the first night one candle is lit, on the second two are lit and so on until all 8 holders are filled. Candles are always placed from right to left, yet lit from left to right, signifying the greatness of the miracle that increased on each night.
All holders must be the same height except for one called the Shamash. It can be in the middle or the end like on mine in the picture above. That is taller than the rest and holds the candle from which all others are lit.
Sounds beautiful doesn’t it? It really is, but lit candles are always a hazard when pets are around, and 8 nights!! The menorah is usually on a table or window sill, but we all have pets that can find a way to reach. My cats always seemed to gravitate to it, and it was a challenge to find a place they couldn’t get to! I just ended up watching them until the candles burned out.
Whether you’ll be lighting your menorah in the window, on a dining room table or other surface…
Is there a chair or couch your dog can climb on to reach it?
If you have a bigger dog, can his swishy tail catch fire or knock it over?
Is the furniture the lit menorah will be sitting on sturdy? If not, a dog of any size can easily knock it down, causing a fire and some serious injuries.
If options are limited and there isn’t much you can do to keep your dog from getting to the candles, keep him out of the room or watch him like a hawk. Banning my dog isn’t an option so I keep an eye on him. A lit menorah is too spectacular a sight for me to want to miss!
There are so many stories of how the name came to be I don’t know which one is “right.” One explanation is that it comes from the German word “drehen” which means to spin, and Yiddish speaking Jews changed the name to dreidel.
A dreidel is a 4-sided spinning top used to play a game of the same name. There is a Hebrew letter on each of the four sides – nun, gimel, hey, shin. They represent the first letter of each of the four words that make up the sentence (translated into English) “A great miracle happened there” – meaning the land of Israel. For those buying dreidels in Israel you will see that instead of the letter “shin” you will have a letter called “pay” representing the word “poh” which means here.
Dreidels come in various sizes and materials, but they are typically small and a definite choking hazard. Gather around the table while playing dreidel, but if it’s not convenient for the kids and the floor is best, keep an eye on the dog or give him a delicious bone to chew on in his bed. Watching the tops spin is a very tempting sight for many, and for those of you who have dogs that like to experience everything with their mouths, it’s a danger.
Chocolate Hanukkah gelt
Gelt, the Yiddish word for money, is given to kids as a gift and often used when playing dreidel. As you can see from the above image, chocolate Hanukkah gelt is made to look like coins, typically wrapped in gold foil (although I have seen other colours as well), come in various sizes in a gold coloured net bag and contain chocolate.
The wrapped gelt are nice shiny objects that attract our dog’s attention, and the empty foil wrappers are perfect for licking any melted chocolate off of.
If you have young children of course you’re going to be supervising them, and that will benefit your dog as well!
The Hebrew word for donuts, nothing symbolises Hanukkah more than jelly donuts…okay maybe potato latkes but we’ll talk about them in a moment!
I grew up eating latkes but when I spent a year in Israel after high school, (yes that was ages ago!) I quickly discovered their tradition was jelly donuts. I found it a bit odd to begin with but after one bite I quickly acclimated!!
If you want to have a go at making them from scratch, check out the video below.
Please don’t feel bad when your dog gives you that “I’m suffering and starving, how can you possibly deny me” look. While your younger dog may have a strong enough constitution to not experience any serious affects from the piece of donut he snatched out of your hand, your older dog certainly might. All that oil can easily cause pancreatitis (in dogs of any age), and if your senior dog already has it like mine did, the consequences can literally be deadly.
Potato latkes for Hanukkah
Sufganiot are great, but to me nothing spells Hanukkah more than potato latkes. Make them from scratch, from a mix or buy them ready made, however you get them you just have to have them…and don’t forget the applesauce!
Delicious for us, dangerous for our dogs due to the frying in oil part and being made with onions. I know it seems like it’s been all doom and gloom for the animals until now, but finally some good news. Below you will find an easy recipe for doggy latkes, and a video for humans.
Grate a couple of white or sweet potatoes, mix with 1 egg and some flour, then drop by the spoonful onto a parchment lined baking tray. Bake around 350 until starting to brown on top then flip. Serve with cottage cheese.
Holiday gift wrap
When it comes to Hanukkah gifts, there is no “standard” approach. Some families give their kids a little something each night, some give one gift, others a bit of money to teach them the value of giving. I suppose adults could also be on the receiving end of some of those presents but that was never the case in my home, it was always just about the kids.
I’m sure you knew the warnings were coming, but that’s the point of this article so I have to. While scrunching up wrapping paper and letting your animals play hockey with it is fun, make sure they aren’t in a corner eating it. Whether you throw out ribbons and bows or reuse them, don’t leave them around to be used as toys. They could easily get swallowed and cause all sorts of damage, and I’m pretty sure surgery to remove ribbon is not what you had in mind.
Holiday safety tips
It really is not difficult to keep pets safe, you just have to be vigilant. For those of us with senior dogs who have issues (blind, deaf, mobility issues, pancreatitis…), isn’t every day about keeping them safe? Don’t we see everything from their point of view, consider what could be a danger and keep those things out of their way? I don’t know about you but every day is like that for me, and holidays are no exception, except that I love them and get to share them with my furry family members.
- Keep an eagle eye on your dog (and all pets) while lighting the candles and until they have completely burned out
- Close the door and keep the animals out
- Placing a baby gate or barrier across the door means your dog can still see, or at least hear what’s going on
- Games of dreidel, eating, and opening gifts can be done on the table out of reach of your dog. When finished put everything away, or make sure the chairs are under the table so your dog can’t reach
- Allow him to be part of the festivities, but make sure he stays on his bed. A delicious bone or a Kong filled with part of his meal or a favourite treat will keep him busy. Freezing the Kong will keep him even busier for longer
Personally I keep the dogs with us so we can all celebrate together, but I do keep a very close eye on where they are and what they’re doing.
So, is Hanukkah the most dangerous holiday ever?
Of course not!
Hanukah is a wonderful time to remember the miracle of our people, have the family gather together, enjoy the beauty of lit menorahs, recite the prayers and sing the songs. It truly is my favourite holiday.