Learning About Hanukah This Christmas

Article by: Olivia Smith, Air Force Spouse
(Photo credits: Olivia Smith and Photo Pin)

Traditions and the military go hand in hand. If you think about it, our armed forces are steeped in them. From Hail and Farewells, the uniforms that our spouses bestow every day, to the Three-volley salute at funerals, we are knee deep in traditions. As spouses, keeping up with tradition is a lifestyle, not only within the military community, but also within our own households. Everyone has their own holiday traditions they enjoy every year. For some it’s going to midnight mass (if you are Catholic), for others it’s celebrating their freedom from years past. The celebration of Hanukah is a perfect example of how traditions can be born and passed down through generation after generation.

When I was approached by Erin Whitehead (Web Editor, Military Spouse Magazine) to write an article about Hanukah, I was excited and also a bit anxious. Mainly because I am not from Jewish decent nor do I know anyone personally who is. My first idea for this article was to interview someone who had hands on experience, because after all, who better then to tell the story of Hanukah then someone who follows this tradition every year. I tapped into my online and social media resources, as did Erin, hoping to find that needle in a haystack. Even though we had a few leads, none of them panned out as expected.

When Plan A didn’t work, it was off to Plan B….which was to heavily research the holiday and its traditions on my own, then write about my findings. Along with the research, I also took it upon myself to make the two stapled Hanukah recipes that grace tables each year….latkes (also known as potato-fried pancakes) and homemade applesauce. Making these two recipes was an experience I will never forget. I will get to that a little later, but first, I’d like to introduce you to:

Hanukah History 101

-It is a Jewish holiday and is also known as ‘Chanukah’ or ‘The Festival of Lights.’

-The word Hanukah itself means ‘to dedicate.’ It is during this time in history when the Maccabees (the Jewish rebel Army) regained control of Jerusalem from Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the ruler for the Selecuid Empire that was trying to take over Jerusalem) and rededicated The Temple (the place for Jewish sacrifice and where the Jews gather to celebrate the presence of God).

-It lasts eight days, beginning the evening of December 8th and lasting until the evening of December 16th.

-The term ‘Festival of Lights’ refers to the lighting of a certain candelabrum called a Menorah. It is said that during this dedication, there was only enough sacred oil to provide for one day’s worth of lighting. However, the Menorah stayed lit for eight days straight, despite the lack of oil.

-Popular games that are played during this holiday are: lighting candles each night and singing special songs, reciting the Hallel prayer (a Jewish prayer of praise and Thanksgiving), eating particular foods fried in oil and foods that have dairy in them, and playing the Driedel game.

Upon doing my research for recipes I could make for this article, I noticed that almost every recipe I came across was fried in some type of oil (canola, peanut, vegetable, etc.) and it left me questioning things. Needless to say, I was pleased when I read the significance of how oil played a part in the actual history of hanukah itself.

I am not a person who does well with frying anything in the kitchen. However, I was curious to try a few of these recipes. The first recipe, Homemade Applesauce, was easy to make and received rave reviews from both of my kids (including my picky son) and my husband.

The second recipe, Foolproof Potato Latkes (pronounced lat-kuhs according to Merriam Webster), was not as simple to make. I chopped, mixed, and processed the ingredients as stated, however, it all resulted in a mush-like dish that had the consistency of oatmeal fried up in a pan. It smelled so wonderful, but did not look anything like I would imagine potato pancakes to look. Completely feeling defeated, I gave up and decided that the applesauce recipe would be the one I would share with all of you. That was my thought process until my wonderful husband came in to save the day (it must be that positive military attitude coming out of him).

Questioning the mushy mix in the bowl, he looked at me and said, “this stuff can be revamped and saved. Watch the master at work….” It took him a total of three tries, two of which resulted in burning the pan, however, he succeeded in frying up what looked to be a decent looking potato pancake. His secret?? Heat the pan to medium-low heat, increase the amount of oil, and let each side fry a few more minutes longer then what was stated in the recipe.

Our family dined on applesauce, sour cream, and potato pancakes that night as we discussed the traditions and history of Hanukah. I am so glad I was asked to write about Hanukah because now my family and I have a clear understanding of what it is all about, a celebration of freedom, thanksgiving, and miracles.

Happy Holidays!

Homemade Applesauce


4 apples (we used red delicious)…peeled, cored, and chopped

¾ cup of water

¼ cup of white sugar

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. lemon juice

2 tsp. brown sugar


1. In a saucepan, combine apples, water, white sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and brown sugar.

2. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until apples are soft.

3. Drain out the liquid and allow to cool.4.Mash with a fork or potato masher and serve.

4. Mash with fork or potato masher and serve.

Foolproof Potato Lakes


3 big sized russet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 onion, chopped

2 eggs

2 tsp. salt

½ cup all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ cup vegetable oil


1. Place half of the potatoes, onion, eggs, salt, flour, and baking powder in a food processor. Pulse several times until the potatoes and onions are finely chopped.

2.Add the rest of the potatoes and pulse again until everything is chopped and the mixture is combined.

3.Heat oil in skillet over medium-low heat. Take 1/3 cup of mixture and place it into the oil. Fry patty until brown and crisp on the bottom, flip it, and cook until the other side is brown and crisp. About 5-7 minutes on each side…maybe more.

4.Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream.

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