Hanukkah. The festival of lights. It’s one of my favorite holidays (and no, not just because as a kid I got a little present each night). It’s one of my favorite holidays because the story really is miraculous. Many people don’t think about the story of Hanukkah – they believe that Hanukkah was just made up so the Jews had gifts to open around Christmas time.
In fact, there is a story of Hanukkah. It’s the story of the Maccabees and their victory over the Greek/Syrian forces of King Antiochus in the year 165 B.C.E. The King wanted to impose paganism on the Jewish people and a group called the Maccabees revolted. The King had taken over and destroyed their Temples, but the Maccabees miraculously regained control over the Temple. In the Temple (and all Jewish Temples) there is an eternal flame that has to stay lit all the time (meant to symbolize God’s eternal presence) and that flame had been extinguished when the King’s men took over the Temple. The Maccabees relit the flame, but there was only enough oil to keep it burning for one day. That’s when a miracle happened – the lamp remained lit for eight days, until the new oil arrived. This is how Hanukkah has become known as the Festival of Lights and to commemorate, we light a candle in the menorah each of the eight nights.
One of my favorite traditions during Hanukkah is to eat brisket and latkes. I don’t have a good story about why this tradition came about (it has been said that the oil you fry the latkes in is supposed to represent the oil from the eternal flame, but I think it’s just delicious), but it most certainly is a tradition.
Every year growing up, my family had a Hanukkah party. We’d gather at my Aunt’s house and eat a meal of brisket and latkes then exchange gifts. I remember, and will always remember, the gift that came from my Aunt Sherry and Uncle Allen – a gift card to Barnes & Noble to encourage us kids to read as much as we could.
My dad, though. He always made the best latkes. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside. Salty, peppery, potato-y perfection.
The past few years, I haven’t been home to celebrate Hanukkah with my family, so, I’ve taken to making brisket and latkes myself. Using my Aunt Sherry’s brisket recipe and my dad’s latke recipe, I think I’ve done pretty well recreating the flavors of home.
Now, for the accouterments. Some people like sour cream on their latkes. Some like applesauce. Me? I like both. Call me a glutton, but it’s the best combo ever.
There are two more nights of Hanukkah and then it’s Christmas time! I’ve also been very lucky to celebrate both holidays growing up. But, I can’t lie, the Hanukkah brisket and latkes always win.