Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days and nights. It commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E. Like many Jewish holidays, Hanukkah has accompanying food traditions. Fried foods like "sufganiyot" (jelly-filled doughnuts) and "latkes" (potato pancakes) are especially popular, as are dairy foods.
Fried Foods and Hanukkah
Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days when the Maccabees rededicated the holy Temple in Jerusalem after their victory over the Syrian-Greeks. Fried foods like potato pancakes ("latkas" in Yiddish and "livivot" in Hebrew) and doughnuts ("sufganiyot" in Hebrew) are traditional Hanukkah treats because they are cooked in oil and remind us of the miracle of the holiday. Some Ashkenazi communities call latkes "fasputshes" or "pontshkes."
Dairy Foods and Hanukkah
Dairy foods did not become popular on Hanukkah until the Middle Ages. The custom of eating things like cheese, cheesecake and blintzes emerged from the story of Judith. According to legend, Judith was a great beauty who saved her village from the Babylonians. The Babylonian army was besieging her village, when Judith charmed her way into the enemy camp with a basket of cheese and wine. She brought the food to the enemy general, Holofernes, who consumed increasing amounts of wine along with the cheese. (According to the story, the cheese was very salty, hence making Holoferenes very thirsty.) When Holofernes eventually became drunk and passed out, Judith beheaded him with his sword and brought his head back to the village in her basket. When the Babylonians discovered that their leader had been slain, they left. In this way Judith saved her people and eventually it became traditional to eat dairy foods in honor of her bravery.