If you’ve given me a hug over the past few weeks, there’s a good chance you got a whiff of onion and potato and secretly said to yourself: “He smells like a Jewish grandma.” That’s because, since early December, I’ve become a one-man latke factory. It started when I read this post by Kim Severson all about making latkes ahead. Apparently, they freeze very well. Then I read a similar piece on Bon Appetit about making 400 latkes for a latke party. The strategy was the same: make them ahead, freeze them, then bake them for 20 minutes right before serving. Which is how I found myself inviting friends over for a latke party on the first night of Hanukkah and making 300 latkes to serve at said latke party.
A lot of people are making a big deal about the fact that Hanukkah fell this year on Thanksgiving. “It’s the first time in thousands of years that this has happened!” someone said to me and I said back, “But America hasn’t existed for thousands of years?” There was an uncomfortable silence. The point is that many people, while eating turkey, were also eating latkes last week. And since we’re still in the middle of Hanukkah, it’s not too late to have a latke party. All you need are some potatoes (sweet or regular), some onion-like things (I’ll explain momentarily) and miraculous vegetable oil that’s capable of burning for eight nights straight.
For the longest time, as a young Jew, I was convinced that all of Christianity hinged on a deep, profound belief in Santa Claus. Jesus baffled me; I presumed he was just a supporting player in the epic, inspiring story of Santa. And as much as I was supposed to be impressed with an oil lamp that burned for eight straight nights, the idea of a big fat man with a beard soaring through the air, climbing down the chimney of good little Christian kids and smothering them in a sea of gifts filled me with a jealous rage.
It took 20 some odd years, a flight to Seattle and a drive to Bellingham Washington–where Craig’s family lives–to finally experience December on the other side of the religious fence. And though I won’t be baptizing myself in the bathtub any time soon, I was thoroughly impressed. Here’s why.