May 21, 2019

Hanukkah at Disneyland: The Good, The Katz and The Spicy

A Very Disney Hanukkah

The Jewish Journal team explores the foods, music and fun of Hanukkah as the Disneyland Resort's Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure Park celebrates the Festival of Lights.

Posted by Jewish Journal on Monday, December 3, 2018

The miracle of Hanukkah is one of the most well-known in Judaism. This year, why not celebrate the miracle with a little bit of magic at the Happiest Place on Earth?

The Disneyland Resort’s Festival of Holidays has been a seasonal favorite since 2016. This year’s celebration — which in addition to Hanukkah, has festive food, drink, music, merchandise and crafts for Christmas, Navidad, Diwali, Kwanzaa and Three Kings Day — takes place at Disney California Adventure Park.

Both parks get a dusting of winter magic and evening snowfall and are very festive and, of course, you can’t miss the explosion of Christmas decor around the park. However, Disney added handfuls of Jewish and Hanukkah elements to make members of the tribe feel at home during the holidays.

The Jewish Journal team explored the park to see if the Festival of Holidays is worthy of an extra helping of latkes. This is what we found.

Sights to See
Disney is known for their amazing window displays, and you can expect nothing less during the holiday season. If you head to Buena Vista Street, you can find the Hanukkah-themed window outside Julius Katz’ store. Even though Julius Katz is not a real person, he is based on Julius the Cat from the early Alice Comedies that Walt Disney created prior to Mickey Mouse.

The storefront is loaded with latkes, sufganiyot and Hanukkah merchandise you can purchase in the park. Each year Disney releases a limited edition Hanukkah pin that you can also purchase at both parks, as well as at Downtown Disney. The themed Festival of Holidays merchandise also proudly rocks a lot of dreidels and menorahs.

Dr. Benjamin Silverstein, yet another fictional Jewish persona, has a “storefront” on Main Street USA where you can find a mezuzah on the doorpost, as well as a giant menorah in the window above that is lit all eight nights of Hanukkah — to best see that, just cross the street and look up. (There are several real Jewish Disney animators and creators who could have been showcased, but it is nice to see the representation at both parks. Look around Main Street and you will find the door of the Sherman Brothers — the music makers behind “Mary Poppins” and “it’s a small world,” as well).

Games to Play
Inside the Festival of Holidays, you’ll find an array of activities. One arts and crafts station includes D.I.Y. dreidels and hanukkah cards. This craft is fun for all ages and surprisingly harder than it looks. If made correctly, the blue and white paper dreidels — which are correctly labeled in Hebrew– spin. Pair it with a nice Hanukkah card it makes a cute takeaway for kids and an easy gift for Bubbe, Zayde, Ema or Aba.

Let’s Nosh Already
“What better way is there to celebrate different cultures and holiday traditions than with a unique blending of great food?” Disneyland Resort Chef Jimmy Weita asks. “Many of our items are classic holiday tastes, with a distinctive Disney twist.”

He’s not wrong. Food is a great way to learn and understand a culture and it’s impossible to miss the seemingly limitless food options at Festival of Holidays since they border the park as you stroll along.

If your kids are picky eaters or have an allergy, Disney is already one step ahead in this department offering kid-friendly, vegan, vegetarian and allergy-friendly options so that no matter what a family eats, there’s something everyone can nosh on.  

The only caveat? The food, including the Hanukkah-themed options, are not kosher. However, kosher meals are available for purchase at the sit-down restaurants in the park, just call ahead to reserve.

Jalapeño latkes with chipotle crema.

Here are the following Jewish-themed bites you can try and where to find them:

  • Favorite Things—Reuben potato tots with Russian dressing and rye toast
  • Merry Mashups— Lox & everything bagel nachos
  • Spicy Celebrations— Jalapeño latkes with chipotle crema featuring Horizon organic sour cream

The Reuben tots and lox and everything nachos were real winners and though maybe not the healthiest options, the shareables were well worth the $6. Plus each recipe is easy to recreate at home, so the fun can continue after leaving Disneyland. We even snagged the recipe for the Reuben potato tots that you can view here. If spice isn’t your style, we suggest you steer clear of the jalapeno latkes but for $6, the portion size is filling and topped with a dried apple to remind you of the sweet applesauce your burning mouth desperately wished it had. For a full listing of the Festive Food Marketplace click here.

It’s Time to Horah

Members of Mostly Kosher performing at the Festival of Holidays. (Scott Brinegar/Disneyland Resort)

Easily the most enjoyable moment of Disney’s Hanukkah festivities is the performance by Gypsy-rock Klezmer group Mostly Kosher. The multiperson band literally dances their way onto the stage and has been performing at Festival of Holidays for three years in a row. Their production and popularity have continued to grow each year.

Multiple 30-minute shows filled with a variety of Jewish influenced music shake up the park daily at the Sonoma Terrace, erasing the stereotypical idea of what Jewish music is.

Band leader Leeav Sofer told the Journal that they are using the numerous performance slots as a way to grow the band. Because of this, every performance is different and still maintains the rich sound and vibrant personality of Mostly Kosher.

There is something special and even emotional about hearing “Ma’oz Tsur/Rock of Ages” and “Al Hanisim” at a park that is usually Christmas dominated. It’ll make any Jewish person feel right at home and maybe even a little ferklempt.

“Singing and music is the greatest equalizer and cultural music, at the end of the day, is just a platform to connect cultures and people together,” Sofer said.

By the end of each performance, the large crowd of Jewish and non-Jewish participants are “ay-dy-dying” and dancing the horah around the stage. It’s a beautiful moment of unity brought together through Jewish music.

“You take this music that is not very common to everyone that not many people know and put it in front of them,” Sofer said. “We are laying down the bridge to invite everybody in and give them a little gift-wrapped goodie bag to take home with them so they can have ownership of this music.”

The Festival of Holidays runs through January 8 at Disney California Adventure Park. For ticket information please click here.

Shoshana Lewin is the Digital Director at the Journal and Erin Ben-Moche is the Digital Content Manager at the Journal.