Holidays can be a great time for family and friends to get together, however preparing food for them can sometimes be stressful. If you are new to celebrating Hanukkah, you may not fully understand Hanukkah food traditions particularly when they don’t seem the healthiest choices. Keep reading to learn about why certain foods are served during this eight day holiday.
Traditional Hanukkah foods include sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts), cream cheese rugelach and apple fritters, all. You will also find potato or other vegetable latkes, fried in oil. What is the emphasis on oil and fried foods?
Hanukkah foods are served as a way to remind families of the miracle of the oil in the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Maccabees re-took the Temple and planned to rededicate it back to God, they found only enough special oil for the Menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil remained lit for eight days until more oil could be produced. This is the reason Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days with oil lamps or candles being lit each night for the duration. It is also why many of the foods served during Hanukkah are fried.
Another reason for the emphasis on oil during this celebration in the Jewish month of Kislev is that oil has long been associated with wisdom or the study of Torah. Since the Greeks had overtaken Jerusalem, the children of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob couldn’t study Torah or even speak Hebrew. So, it makes sense, since oil is associated with wisdom and Torah, that the foods prepared during this time would be fried.
Foods made with milk are also served during Hanukkah. The story is told how Yehudis (a young Jewish woman) made a Greek general fall asleep by serving salty cheese and wine. While he slept, she killed him and the army became discouraged and fled. Dairy products, therefore, are served in honor of this woman’s bravery.
Originally the sufganiyot would not have been made with milk. However, Jewish people in Spain (known as Sephardic Jews) began to add cheese to the pastries served during Hanukkah. This would explain why cheese blintzes are served during the week of celebration. Jews in India add milk and butter to their version of sufganiyot and therefore the traditions of serving fried and dairy foods are combined.
Another Hanukkah foodcombines the fried and dairy traditions is the potato latke. Grated potatoes are fried in oil and served with sour cream on top. Some people also serve them with apple sauce.
It is amazing how food traditions begin if you think about it. What is even more amazing is that many people will serve the same foods year after year as they celebrate holidays and some don’t even understand why. Whether you are following Hanukkah food traditions or any other tradition, take time to do some research to find out why those foods are served. You may be surprised and enriched by what you find.