Eight days of music, games, presents, a story of a miracle, special time with family and plenty of potato latkes and doughnuts.
What's not to love about Hanukkah?
Known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates the Jewish Maccabees' military victory over the Greek-Syrians and the rededication of the Temple. It celebrates the miracle that occurred when only one day's worth of sacred oil kept the Temple lamp burning for eight days until more oil could be obtained.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Aaron Pielmeier, 14, watches as his sister Caroline Pielmeier, 16, lights the first candle in the hanukkiah for Hanukkah.
"It's a very celebratory, fun time of year. A great holiday for children," said Hazzan Michael Horwitz, spiritual leader at Agudath Achim Congregation.
From preschoolers to teenagers, youths look forward to the Festival of Lights, which begins at sundown today.
In anticipation of the holiday, Elliott Horwitz, 5, of Altoona plays with Latke Larry, a 7-inch stuffed chef doll, and a toy hanukkiah (menorah that holds eight candles) that plays "Maoz Tzur," a Hanukkah song.
"I love my Latke Larry toy that sings about latkes and my toy menorah that lights up when you push the button with all the candles," Elliott said.
By the time children are a few years older, the holiday has even more meaning.
"When I think of Hanukkah I think of family," said 9-year-old Mandy Sky. "I think of eight candles. I like thinking about how it was a miracle, and when we celebrate, how it is a miracle for us.
"When we get together as a family, one might be sick, or we might not see someone for a while, but we all come together to be with the whole family. We have dinner every night at our house or another family's. We eat and say prayers, open presents and play dreidel (a four-sided top game)."
Mandy, daughter of Dana and Izzy Sky of Altoona, also enjoys giving to others.
"I actually like gathering around with family, opening gifts and seeing the expressions on their faces if I got a present for them," she said.
One year she made a picture frame for her father. She painted it in his favorite color and glued rocks around it, because he likes rocks, and filled it with a collage of family photos.
"He really liked it," she said.
For her brother, Hanukkah means good food.
"My personal favorite is potato latke," Sam, 11, said. "They're amazing."
Beyond the palate, Sam said Hanukkah is "just like a happy time. When everyone's happy, I'm happy. It's a giant circle of happiness."
Matt and Dalia Evans and their family have a unique perspective on the holiday having celebrated it in Israel for several years before moving to the United States three years ago.
American-born Matt met Israeli Dalia when he moved to Israel. They lived in Chicago for a while and moved to Altoona about 18 months ago.
"The funniest thing is because of the closeness of Hanukkah to Christmas, having to compete with Christmas. Here in America you get one present every night," Dalia said. "In Israel, we don't. In Israel, kids don't see trees and presents. They love it here with all the presents."
Ava Kline, 9, daughter of Michael and Betsy Kline of Altoona enjoys dreidels and gelt.
Betsy said Ava looks forward to sharing Hanukkah with her schoolmates at Baker Elementary School, following in the footsteps of her brother, Asher.
Asher, 17, said he looks forward to is "a warm sense of unity and good heartedness" during the holiday.
"It's important to reach out to people who may not have the same things you do, to celebrate Hanukkah with people who don't have families," he said. "Last year, we went to see a man named Joseph in a nursing home who didn't have any family left. We were his family."
"He's not even Jewish," Betsy said of the man, "But he loves religion, loves the Bible. It really meant a lot to him. We went to see him on Dec. 25 last year. It was Christmas Day and Hanukkah."
The Kline family plans to visit him again this year.
"I know this sounds really cheesy," said 16-year-old Caroline Pielmeier, "but what I like best about Hanukkah is when all the family comes together to exchange gifts, open presents, do the blessings. All of us coming together, sitting down in one room and enjoying each other's company.
"I remember one year we were in Pittsburgh when mom was getting certified as a physical fitness trainer," she recalled. "It was Hanukkah, and we were in a hotel. My brother and I played dreidel with pistachio nuts, and we had shells everywhere."
Caroline and her brother, Aaron, 14, are the children of Brent Pielmeier of Altoona and Carol McCaulley of Hollidaysburg.
"We each have our own hanukkiah," Caroline said. We also make these homemade doughnuts. My mom is really strict on the healthy food, so it's fun to get to eat fried foods for eight days."
Aaron said he likes the latkes and beef brisket, presents and spending time with family.
One of the customs Aaron enjoys is in the anticipation of gift-giving. After lighting the Hanukkah menorah, "you wait until you see the first star in the sky before you get your gift," he said. "It's exciting."