The obvious first step in hosting a Hanukkah party is to pick a spelling! Just kidding, but if you aren't that familiar with the Jewish holiday the multiple spellings of the name can be just one of the many things that intimidate you about throwing a Hanukkah party. That's why we have this easy guide.
The focus of any good Hanukkah party is food and the centerpiece of the food is latkes, or potato pancakes. Unfortunately, the timing of the latkes is tricky. Latkes are best served very hot, and because they're being fried in a lot of oil, they have to be watched very carefully while cooking. About half of your party will consist of you (or whomever is cooking) in the kitchen talking to one or two other people. You'll want to have your kitchen ready for company, and to have some music, drinks and nibbles in there or you'll be very lonely standing by the stove.
Don't try to serve a large Hanukah party a sit down meal, simply prepare a buffet table ahead of time and have a helper constantly refresh it with new latkes. Traditional toppings for latkes include sour cream and apple sauce, but you can experiment with jams, chutneys, and even caviar. For healthier, lower fat latkes you can try sweet potato or carrot latkes, and there are several recipes available for baked latkes. Baking the latkes will save you time, and keep your house from smelling like a diner, but will disappoint some guests (namely, my husband). You will want to serve a salad or other vegetable along with the latkes to help soak up some of the grease.
The traditional Chanukah desert is soufganyot, or donuts (also fried in oil, it's a holiday that's all about the oil). You can pair these with sugar cookies in Hanukah shapes and chocolate gelt (coins). I found these "Eight Night" Hanukah Cookies on Blow Out Party Blog. The desert table image at the top of the post comes from Catch My Party.
After people have eaten, a round or two of dreidel is needed. You can find instructions here. Any number of people can play at once, but you may want to divide in to two or three groups. You'll want to have M&Ms, raisins, or pennies on hand for the game (don't use raisins, really, what's festive about raisins?).
Hanukkah is a gift giving occasion and presents can be tricky if you are celebrating with a large group. I recommend simply preparing a small gift bag with a dreidel and gelt for each child to take on his or her way out.
Anyone who has ever been in a school choir this time of year knows there aren't a lot of Hanukkah songs. But, in addition to a rousing game of dreidel if you're having a large party you could consider hiring a String quartet, Klezmer band, or solo Violinist or Accordion player to put you in the Old World mood. You could also put together your own mix with copies of Rock of Ages, I Had a Little Dreidel and of course Adam Sandler's Chanuka Song.
What other ideas do you have for a Hanukah party? Share them in the comments below!