Hanukkah, the eight-day festival of light that begins this Sunday, December 21, is when people of the Jewish faith celebrate the triumph of light over darkness.
The holiday commemorates a history that dates back more than 2,000 years, when the Jewish Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks) who tried to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, and reclaimed their Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
When the Jews went to light the Temple’s menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by their enemies. Miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of Jewish ritual purity.
To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the festival of Hanukkah was instituted. At the center of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Hanukkah, when all eight lights are glowing.
The Flavor of Hanukkah: Fried and Sweet
Among the many Hanukkah customs is the eating of foods fried in oil to commemorate the miracle of the oilâ€”potato latkes (pancakes) and sufganiot (strawberry jam-filled doughnuts covered in powdered sugar). Other Hanukkah favorites include fried apple fritters, cheese-filled doughnuts fried in oil and dipped in honey, and cheese blintzes.
Try our recipe for Hanukkah Latkes.