Holiday traditions are an important reminder of the miracle of the connections we have with family and friends. Since Hanukkah is celebrated around the same time as Christmas, it has become a well-known Jewish holiday. This year, 2011, Hanukkah starts at sundown on Tuesday, December 20th and ends at sunset on Wednesday, December 28th on the Gregorian calendar. Hanukkah always starts on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. Since the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar don’t exactly coincide, the days for Hanukkah appear to move around and usually fall in late November or December.
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem. A small band of Jews, the Maccabees, fought against powerful Hellenistic rulers to win back the desecrated temple and the freedom to practice their religion. To prepare for the rededication, oil was needed to relight the temple menorah. A cruse of oil was found but it contained only enough to light the menorah for one night. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight nights instead.
During Hanukkah, it is traditional to eat foods that symbolize the miracle of the oil. Two favorites are potato pancakes (latkes) fried in oil and doughnuts (sufganiyot). Our family makes a large batch of latkes on the first night of Hanukkah. These traditional foods can be nutritious. Potatoes, olive oil and canola oil all earn three Guiding Stars! A modern twist on the traditional recipe is to use sweet potato to make the latkes. Sweet potatoes also earn three Guiding Stars. While I prefer white potato, I have been challenged by my Registered Dietitian friends to have a white versus sweet potato latke fry-off during Hanukkah! Which do you prefer? Toppings for latkes can be savory or sweet, such as sour cream, applesauce or strawberry preserves. It is a special night where our family lights the first candle on the menorah and sits together to enjoy the freshly prepared latkes as well as each other’s company. We may even exchange small gifts.
I hope you take the time during this holiday season to reflect on the people in your life… friends and family who are essential to our health and well-being. Show your appreciation for each other by sharing nutritious food in an atmosphere of love.