Most of us love the holiday season, whether our own holiday is Christmas, Hannukah, Kwaanza or some combination we have adopted over time. Even if you don’t celebrate anything in particular in December, you can sense something different about the way people interact around this time of the year. There’s anticipation in the air, a feeling that we’ve waited all year for something very special and it’s almost here.
It feels right to embrace the joy I sense in these last days of preparation. The anticipation starts for me about two weeks before Thanksgiving, and I don’t let go until some time after New Year’s Eve. By then I’m ready for some calm time to reflect — not to mention time to clean up, put away decorations for next year, and generally put my house in order.
For Christians, this time of the year is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is one of the holiest times of the year (the other being the Easter season). We walk a line that includes inspirational services at churches, movies made around the theme of mankind’s ultimate goodness and care for fellow human beings, and redemption. Christmas has also evolved over the years as a major secular holiday, which means giving gifts to those near and dear to us. Needless to say, this makes retailers rejoice just before the end of the year for entirely different reasons.
The celebration of Hanukkah dates back over 2,000 years, to a time when the Jewish people overcame the army of the Seleucids, a Syrian-Greek people who ruled them. Their celebration included the lighting of a menorah, an eight-branched candelabra. The menorah burned for eight days on only one day’s worth of oil, which was considered a miracle.
This led to an annual festival of lights during which one branch of a menorah is lit each night for eight days. There are dietary preferences as well as restrictions tied to Hannukah. Traditional foods consumed during Hanukkah include many that are fried in oil, symbolic of the oil that kept the menorah burning for eight days and nights.
Kwanzaa is a newer holiday. This celebration came into being in 1966. It is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Celebrants are mostly African-Americans and others with African roots. The celebration is about African heritage, union and culture. Food is an integral part of the culture, so, as with most celebrations, it ends with a feast.
Food, of course, has a lot to do with all of our annual celebrations. For me, a lot of the celebration is about getting together with family to share the best of what we all prepare. I look forward to the big meals, from the planning to the way the tables look laden with good food. Things have a way of changing, sometimes for the better. A lot of the heavy dishes we all ate decades ago have evolved to create a more healthy way of eating. Many of the old recipes have been made over to become more healthy. A good thing for all of us.
My culinary horizons have widened globally over the years. I’ve seldom tried good food from another culture that I didn’t like. (I do exclude certain organ meats and anything with six legs, just because.) This year, the holiday feast will include a quick version of something from traditional Hanukkah celebrations — latkes (potato pancakes).
EASY LITTLE LATKES
1 6 ounce box potato pancake mix (plus additional ingredients listed on the package)
1 large potato, shredded and squeezed dry
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, mix potato pancake mix with its required ingredients. Add shredded potato and set aside.
Spray a mini muffin pan with cooking spray. Using a small ice cream scoop, fill each muffin cup with mix. Use back of a melon baller or a small spoon to create a small cup-shaped indentation in each scoop.
Bake cups for 20-25 minutes, or until cups are golden brown. Cool slightly.
Place cups on a platter, fill each cup with sour cream or applesauce and serve.
Cups can also be filled with your favorite jam.
Linda Conway Eriksson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.