Celebrating Hanukkah with Dogs and Cats

Hanukkah with dogs and cats

No tree to climb or pee on.

No ornaments to swat or destroy.

No elves to knock off shelves and play keep-away with.

This time of year might seem pretty boring if you’re a dog or cat who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. (Read my story on Catster, A Jewish Cat’s Lament at Christmas, to hear how Athena feels about it.)

Don’t think there’s no fun to be had, though.

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights

We light the candles on our Hanukkah menorahs every night for eight nights; with curious counter-surfing cats in the house, we stay close by to monitor the dancing flames until the candles have melted away.

The electric menorahs, which we put in the windows, are much safer, and therefore more accessible to nosey noses.

Elsa Clair inspects the menorah in the window.

Elsa Clair inspects the menorah in the window.

The cats are always fascinated by the New Things that appear, and of course must inspect. The dogs are indifferent; no food, no toy, no interest.

Athena is fascinated by the lights on the Hanukkah menorah.

Athena is fascinated by the lights on the Hanukkah menorah.

When we chant the prayers over the candles, Athena joins in. She doesn’t know the Hebrew words, so she sings in Cat. It’s the thought that counts.

A few gifts are sometimes exchanged; the dogs and cats do not lack for boxes, bags and wrapping paper. In our home, we tend to use what we refer to as traditional Hanukkah wrapping paper: the Sunday comics.

Playing the dreidel game

When the whole family gathers on at least one of the days of Hanukkah, we play the dreidel game.

And by we, I mean the humans, dogs, and cats. Each of us takes turns spinning the dreidel — a top that features a Hebrew letter on each of its four sides, which tradition tells us stand for “a great miracle happened there.” (If you’re interested, you can read about the miracle of Hanukkah, the origin of the dreidel toy, or the official rules of the dreidel game.)

Spin, dreidel, spin.

Spin, dreidel, spin.

Those of us with opposable thumbs help out those of us who lack those handy appendages, by spinning the top for them when it’s their turn. All players start with an equal amount of pennies, or poker chips or candies (though candies and treats are off the table — literally — if we’re playing with dogs and cats.)

Depending on what letter lands face up when the top stops spinning, the person/dog/cat will take additional pennies from, or put their pennies in, a central pile or kitty (not the furry kind).

Elsa Clair and Calvin are intrigued by the dreidel.

Elsa Clair and Calvin are intrigued by the spinning top.

Everyone’s game

A typical game of dreidel goes something like this:

My daughter, Corinne, goes first, setting the top spinning in a beautiful blur that transforms the cubed sides into a rounded whole that seems to stand motionless. A quiet whir and soft whoosh are the only sounds as all eyes focus on the top.

Jasper watches intently, his quizzical eyes moving between the top and me, wondering why we’re all staring at this strange item when it is obviously not something to eat.

Lilah, focuses her intense Border Collie stare on the top and then pokes it with her nose, causing the dreidel’s spin to degrade into a mad, capricious wobble. The whir morphs into a clunking quiver. The dreidel draws erratic arcs with its stem, and with a final clatter, collapses onto the surface. We all look at what letter is face up. It’s a shin. Corinne puts a penny in the pile.

My daughter spins the dreidel for the dogs.

Corinne spins the dreidel for the dogs.

Jasper sighs and curls up on the rug. This game is boring; there are no treats and nothing to chase. He doesn’t want to play anymore.

Lilah, however, wants to know why the top stopped spinning.

By now the whirs and clatteration have attracted assorted cats and total terrier Tucker; they want to join the game. We all put another penny in the kitty, and Corinne spins the top again on behalf of Lilah.

Calvin inspects the dreidel; Elsa Clair is very curious.

Calvin inspects the dreidel; Elsa Clair is very curious.

Athena, our tortie cat, is fascinated, stretching her neck out to sniff at this strangely moving item. Her nose touches it, sending the dreidel into a looping tailspin. It lands with the letter Hay facing up. Corinne takes half of the kitty (not the furry kind) and puts it in Lilah’s pile. The dog wags appreciatively.

It’s Athena’s turn, and I spin for her. Remembering the results of her previous nosiness during Lilah’s turn, Athena is a bit more cautious this time. Mesmerized by the susurration of the spinning dreidel, she slowly reaches out and taps it; the top ricochets off her paw and lands right in front of Dawn, who spooks, hisses, and runs away.

Athena and Tucker keep a close watch on the spinning dreidel.

Athena and Tucker keep a close watch on the spinning dreidel.

We discuss this among ourselves. Fair spin? While Athena did interfere, we decide she couldn’t have actually predicted how the top would land, so while this kind of meddling is frowned upon, we decided the spin would count. It’s a gimmel, and Athena gets everything in the kitty (not the furry kind). She looks smug. (Actually, that’s her standard expression, but still.)

Tucker takes his dreidel seriously

In the meantime, Tucker’s interest has reached 11. It’s his turn, and Corinne spins for him. The dog stands up, his entire being focused on the dreidel. The top begins its death spiral, rattling as it collapses. It’s too much for the terrier. He pounces on the coffee table, grabs the dreidel, and takes off for the kitchen.

Tucker takes the dreidel game a little too seriously.

Tucker takes the dreidel game a little too seriously.

Game over

I run after the dog, yelling, “Drop it!” while Corinne makes sure the glass insert on the table hasn’t cracked under the stress of a 45-pound terrier diving onto it. We’re lucky; it’s unscathed. The same cannot be said for the dreidel. Toothmarks mar its wooden surface. The bottom is chipped away. This top will never the spin the same way again.

Calvin walks by some of the dogs' handiwork. (It's not always Tucker who runs off with a dreidel during Hanukkah.)

Calvin walks by some of the dogs’ handiwork. (It’s not always Tucker who runs off with a dreidel.)

It’s time to take Tucker outside to chase a few balls, burn off some of that pent-up energy.

As for playing dreidel? Maybe we’ll wait and play again next year, hoping that Tucker will chose not to cheat by running off with the top. One can only hope. Miracles do happen.

How do you entertain your pets during the holiday?

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9 Comments on "Celebrating Hanukkah with Dogs and Cats"

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  1. easy rider says:

    many thanks for inviting me to a wonderful hanukkah party via your blog :o) Happy Happy Hanukkah to you all

  2. That sounds like a lot of fun! Well, except for the chewing the dreidel part! LOL!

  3. Emma says:

    I can see Bert chewing on Dreidels and maybe Bailie too.

  4. I am chuckling because Hanukkah is celebrated in our house (we aren’t Jewish, we aren’t Christian, we just celebrate both) and I have a Hanukkah tree! Happy Hanukkah!

  5. Wapping dreidels sounds like fun ! Thank you for letting us discover what is a Hannukkah pawty ! Purrs

  6. Deziz World says:

    MOL Dat sounds like a really fun game. We luv spinnin’ toys. MOL happy Chanukah.

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Lexi

  7. da tabbies o trout towne says:

    happy Hanukkah guys….the dreidel game looks like fun and your menorah is beautiful !! ♥♥♥

  8. We would love to play the dreidel game! It was made for cats. :) Happy Hanukkah!

  9. Ellen Pilch says:

    Happy Hanukkah! I love the photos of your kitties with the menorahs.

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