OH! It’s an oily time of year but…why?

Image description: a photo of a tray of donuts

Whilst you’re in Tesco ogling at the Advent Calendars, the Christmas puddings, the Christmas stockings, the Christmas trees and don’t forget the Christmas mistletoe you might happen to stumble upon a six pack of Doughnuts in the holiday section.

*Shopper gasps in horror* What is a godforsaken doughnut doing in this section? You don’t belong here!

You might even go to the sales assistant to complain about this non Christmas-related, edible item. Dave the sales assistant is also struck by this overwhelming confusion, this sinister situation, this unethical turn of events when suddenly…. a Jewish family marches straight over to the doughnuts, puts them in their shopping trolley alongside potatoes, a potato peeler, candles, matches and three litres of oil and, with a confident smile, wishes you a “Happy Chanukah.”

For those of you who, like I did, grew up in a somewhat culturally Jewish house like this you may understand that our December smells are not of Christmas day turkey but rather of burning candles, the sounds are not of Wham’s Last Christmas in the background but rather prayers like Ma’oz Tzur in the foreground and most importantly the taste is not of Christmas pudding but rather, of donuts, latkes (Yiddish for a potato pancake) and whatever other oily edibles you might come up with.

So why does oil become our best friend for eight days in December you might ask?

Well to put it briefly, around 2000 years ago the Jewish people were being oppressed (a shock horror historical first) by the Greeks. The Greeks invaded and imposed their values on the Jewish people; they attacked the temple and the sacred lamp went out. The Jewish Maccabee’s back then had that crazy underdog energy and beat the Greeks in a battle.

However, they needed to rededicate the Temple through lighting the candelabra but the candle only had enough oil to light the menorah for one day; in brief terms the oil was that miraculous liquid gold and lasted for eight days (the time it takes to produce more oil). This holiday is therefore as much about light as it is about oil and what better way to worship that Saturated Fat than through eating potato pancakes and doughnuts.

Those of you familiar with Glee may remember the Christmas episode where Finn and Puck have their Jewish moment to shine and sing “Oh Hanukkah oh Hanukkah.” They invite you to gather  ’round the table we’ll give you a treat, Dreidels to play with and latkes to eat.” To decode this song which made the Jewish Gleeks scream, Latkes are part of an Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. They vary from house to house, country to country and synagogue to synagogue. But in general all you need are potatoes or, in some controversial ‘health conscious’ cases, sweet potatoes, a potato peeler and a bucket load of oil. They are served best with chilled apple sauce to add some sweetness to the savoury.

Doughnuts on the other hand are best… store-bought from your local bakery. The jam variety come with the classic competitive familial challenge of not licking your sugary lips the whole way through the doughy goods. The plain, boring sort however are accompanied by a disappointment similar to that of when you expect your cookies to have chocolate chips but instead taste an unbelievably underwhelming raisin.

So, if you want to mix things up this December, feel free to search beyond the sugar, spice and all things Christmas nice section in Tesco and delve into our Jewish style, oily goods. You may have Christmas pudding and Jesus but why not add some traditional, oily food to the mix because although your skin may hate you, your stomach will forever love that sweet, sweet taste of cultural freedom!

Image credit: Lily Sheldon