Bake-offs can add some spark to a Hanukkah party. (Photo/JTA-Brianna Soukup-Portland Press Herald-Getty Images)
Bake-offs can add some spark to a Hanukkah party. (Photo/JTA-Brianna Soukup-Portland Press Herald-Getty Images)

4 ways to liven up your Hanukkah party with some friendly competition

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This piece was distributed by Southern & Jewish via JTA.

With Hanukkah enmeshed in the Christmas season, it’s tough to compete with the bright and cheery-Santa-centric holiday festivities that dominate the seasonal parties and events. That’s why Hanukkah needs a competitive edge — by including an actual competition in our holiday celebrations.

No, not just the annual dreidel game. That can gets pretty boring after a while, right? I’ve found that adding a trophy to any gathering really ups the level of engagement. For my office birthday party one year, I chose to engage my colleagues in a pie competition (the winner was a classic chocolate pie, but most creative went to the French fry pie), and each year my husband and I host a backyard barbecue competition that draws hundreds of hungry attendees and about a dozen serious competitors vying for those glorious trophies.

For Hanukkah, we’ll be game-ifying the best of Southern traditions: frying food.

Here are some tips on how to encourage a little competition at your Hanukkah party this year.

1. Build excitement

The invitations go out encouraging guests to bring a latke batter of their choosing to fry at the party and share with a group of hungry judges. I usually include a few informative links for those who have never had the pleasure of crafting the perfect latke. Then I encourage the creativity: Sweet Potato Latkes. Carrot and Beet Latkes. Hushpuppy Latkes. The options are endless when it comes to frying fritters.

2. Work on your prizes

Trophy toppers are easy to order online. My husband has a great talent for mounting them and getting official plates printed for each category. Or scour a few thrift shops for some old trophies that you can spray-paint and customize. The more the better: It’s the holidays; everyone can get a trophy!

3. Set up the stations

Because the weather is generally quite mild down South for Hanukkah, we are able to host this event outdoors. We set up a few different frying stations, and as competitors arrive they cook up their recipe in skillets and present them hot and fresh to whoever is standing close enough to the pan. We’ve found that a giant cast-iron skillet on a camp stove matched with a few electric griddles works best.

Weather in the Bay Area, however, might not be so cooperative. If it’s not too cold and if you have a deck or patio, try and use the outdoor space. And if you are fortunate enough to have a large, airy kitchen, you should be OK with the latke fry.

Otherwise, think of different competitive options, like a Hanukkah cookie bake-off, or ask partyers to bring a delicious homemade applesauce.

4. Celebrate enthusiastic participation

Competition usually involves friendly banter, hype music and a blow horn or two. I recommend playing the “Hanukkah Project” by Special Passenger Records to get spirits soaring.

At the end of the night, the votes are tallied, the trophies presented, and our group remembers another holiday event where little Hanukkah can stand out among the punch bowls and twinkle lights of the Christmas season.

Rachel Jarman Myers

Rachel Jarman Myers is the museum and special projects coordinator for the Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Mississippi.