Why We Eat So Many Fried Foods For Hanukkah

It's officially the holiday season, and while for many folks Thanksgiving and Christmas are the first festive occasions that come to mind, the winter calendar is packed with plenty of other traditional celebrations, including Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. Beginning on Sunday night and running through December 6, Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights that commemorates the victory of a Jewish army over a Syrian Greek army way back in 165 B.C. (via My Jewish Learning). As with many Jewish holidays — and holidays in general — the occasion is celebrated around a table full of lots of delicious food.

Even if you've never celebrated Hanukkah, you probably know that the holiday's most iconic food is the humble latke, a potato fritter that's traditionally made of shredded tubers and fried in plenty of hot fat until golden brown and crispy (via The Kitchn). But did you know that all kinds of fried foods are cooked and eaten on Hanukkah? There's a reason behind all that frying — read on to find out what it is.

Hanukkah is a celebration of oil

To explain why all manner of fried foods take their place on a traditional Hanukkah table, we'll have to go back to the original event that the current-day holiday commemorates: the Maccabean Revolt of 167-160 B.C. As explained by World History, this revolt was led by a Jewish priest named Mattathias, whose followers were known as the Maccabees. Back in the times of the Seleucid Empire — its territory included modern-day Jerusalem — Greek forces controlled the Middle East region home to the Jews, which was known as Judea. As more and more Greek customs were pushed and the region's Jews were given less freedom to observe their religious practice, the country priest Mattathias and his followers began to revolt against Greek armed forces. Over several years, these forces clashed, and while Mattathias died in 166 B.C., his successor Judah led a successful uprising against the Seleucids a year later in a dramatic battle.

Victory, and a magic lamp

In 165 B.C., the Jewish army commander Judah and his followers, the Maccabees, successfully defeated armed Seleucid forces, retaking the sacred Jewish temple in Jerusalem that was seized by Greek forces years earlier (via World History). As part of the rededication of the temple, the Maccabees lit the traditional Jewish oil lamp known as a menorah. As the story goes, they used olive oil, and although it was only enough to last for one day, it burned for eight days and nights (via History). Ever since then, Jews light a menorah every night during Hanukkah (though typically with candles and not oil).

Still, oil remains a sacred part of the Hanukkah celebration. In remembrance of that magic lamp, Jews traditionally fry a range of foods in oil for the Hanukkah table — not just latkes but also sufganiyot, or jelly doughnuts (via Learn Religions). Modern-day Jewish foodies often add several nontraditional fried foods to their Hanukkah lineup, including scallion pancakes and falafel (via Eater). So there you have it: Hanukkah is a fried food lover's dream come true. Now excuse us while we melt down some schmaltz and get a-fryin'.