I’m one of the lucky ones. Every year when winter rolls around, I look forward to celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas with my family. It’s shocking that so few people have jumped on this dual holiday bandwagon because it’s seriously the best deal out there.
This double whammy of holiday cheer entails nine days of celebration (eight days Hanukkah + one day Christmas), nine days of family time and nine days of delicious food. To give you a taste of what it’s like celebrate two different holiday I’ve gathered some of my favorite holiday dishes and traditions to share.
I’ve grown up trying to absorb as much diversity as possible so that at holiday parties I can impress people with my extensive knowledge of the names of the four sides of the dreidel. The game is simple: spin the dreidel and either give or take pieces of gelt (chocolate coins) depending on which side is up when the dreidel falls.
You’ll get the gist of my open-minded interfaith childhood if you read my holiday favorite, Blintzes for Blitzen, an adorable children’s book about how one of Santa’s reindeer befriends a Jewish family on Hanukkah. This should be required reading for promoting intercultural literacy, and also because a reindeer eating cheese-filled pancakes is too precious for words.
One of the best parts about seeking out diversity during the holidays is that my family and I make and eat interesting foods that go way beyond ye olde run-of-the-mill Christmas cookies.
To give Christmas an international flavor, one year my mom and I decided to make the classic French Christmas dessert called, la bûche de Noël (“yule log” in English). The rolled cake is meant to resemble a log and we chose to finish our version with a light dusting of powdered sugar to bring to mind freshly fallen snow.
Once we’ve had our fill of sweet Christmas goodies we move on to delicious fried Hanukkah dishes. A Hanukkah tradition at our house is to make latkes. I know that you’ve probably heard latkes described as “potato pancakes”, but really they are fried stacks of shredded onion and potato. No maple syrup involved whatsoever.
The reason for eating latkes on Hanukkah is because they are fried in oil. Using oil commemorates the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days — hence the eight days of Hanukkah. Now that’s what I call a perfect excuse to eat scrumptious fried foods guilt-free.
Once the latkes are out of the frying pan and onto my plate, I go for sour cream and applesauce for my condiments. This combination might seem odd at first, but the sweet and creamy flavors actually create the perfect balance with the greasy and salty taste of the latkes. Now, honestly, do these look like pancakes to you?
Even though it can be difficult to find menorah-sized candles for sale, little setbacks like that won’t stop me from celebrating Hanukkah along with Christmas. Who knows when one of Santa’s reindeer will come to my door looking for a friend who can teach him the joys of latkes?
Celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah has taught me a great deal about food, my heritage, and the world I live in. Supporting an openness to diversity of cultural influences and religious backgrounds is so important in today’s world. Try your hand at this easy latke recipe or this Buche de Noël recipe to start you off season of culinary discovery and open-minded eating.