The week before New Year’s Day features three celebrations, punctuated by feasting, that embrace religious and cultural heritages.
— Hanukkah, one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays, begins Dec. 22.
— Christians celebrate Christmas Dec. 24 and 25.
— Kwanza, a cultural unity celebration for African-Americans, follows on Dec. 26 through Dec. 31.
Hanukkah, an eight-day celebration, commemorates the victory of a small group of Jewish rebels, known as the Maccabees, over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the subsequent liberation and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Modern celebrations of Hanukkah focus on family and friends, and include the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah, one candle for each night, according to reformjudaism.org
According to the legend of the Miracle of the Light, when the Maccabees entered the Temple, they found a single jar of oil, which was sufficient for only one day. The messenger who was sent to secure additional oil took eight days to complete his mission, and miraculously, the single jar of oil continued to burn until his return. The rabbis of the Talmud attributed the eight days of Hanukkah to the miracle of this single jar of oil.
Foods prepared in oil, such as potato pancakes. are traditionally served during Hanukkah. Latkes, crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, are often served with applesauce and sour cream. Recipes and a helpful video is available from popular cooking and lifestyle blogger ToriAvey.com at https://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/potato-latkes/
Christians celebrate Christmas to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American Christmas Eve tradition that grew out of the practice of not eating meat on Christmas Eve. A typical menu includes clams casino, fried calamari, seafood salad, oysters shooters and pasta with clam sauce. according to www.thespruceeats.com/la-vigilia-napoletana-feast-of-seven-fishes-2019493
A newly published book, Feast of the Seven Fishes: A Brooklyn-Italian’s Recipes Celebrating Food and Family, by Daniel Paterna, features recipes and memories handed down through three generations.
African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa from December 26 to January 1. Dr. Maulana Karenga, a black nationalist who became a college professor, introduced the festival in 1966 to the United States as a ritual to welcome the first harvests to the home and counter the deadly Watts riots in Los Angeles the previous year. The seven principles of the custom include unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. On New Year’s Eve, participants celebrate with a banquet. Main dishes include African creole, Cajun catfish, jerk chicken, or Groundnut stew from West Africa, which features warm spices, sweet potatoes and peanuts. For a recipe, visit https://www.strongertogether.coop/recipes/african-groundnut-stew
Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time journalist who delights in cooking, baking and sharing recipes.