Holiday foods carry on family traditions

Taylor Moore
Social Media Editor 

The holidays are a time of tradition and coming together to celebrate. One of the most universal holiday traditions involves the foods families share for their Hanukkah or Christmas celebrations. 

This year, Hanukkah began at sundown Thursday and ends with nightfall on Dec. 15. Jake Huberman, assistant professor of digital media at the University of La Verne, is Jewish and eats the traditional Hanukkah dishes – latkes, a type of potato pancake, and sufganiyah, a round jelly donut – eaten by those around the world who celebrate the Jewish holiday. 

Sufganiyah is a deep-fried doughnut injected with various fillings, such as vanilla, custard, chocolate, with the most common being jelly, and then topped with powdered sugar. Latkes are also deep-fried, with shredded potatoes being fried in the oil of the cook’s choice, with additions of onion, egg, and salt, but sometimes cheese is added. 

Huberman said those who celebrate Hanukkah eat these oily and deep-fried dishes to remember the miracle involving oil, which is when the Jewish holiday began. 

According to JewishHistory.org, the story of the miracle takes place around 200 B.C. when Judea, also known as Israel, went under the control of Antiochus III, the king of Syria. He wanted the Jews to worship the Greek gods, but when the Jews opposed, they were slaughtered by Syrian soldiers. The soldiers infiltrated Jerusalem and desecrated the city’s holy Second Temple. Some time later, the Jews took back the Second Temple and cleansed it. While doing so, they were looking for untainted oil to light the menorah’s candles, which they needed to do in order to cleanse the Second Temple. They found only a single canister of untainted oil, enough to keep the menorah burning for one day. However, upon lighting it, the group found that the oil kept the menorah mysteriously burning for eight nights, leaving them time to find fresh supplies. This miraculous event inspired the eight-day annual festival that became Hanukkah. 

Because of the oil involved in the miracle, oil is incorporated in the dishes Jews eat when celebrating the eight days of Hanukkah. 

“It makes me think of my childhood,” Huberman said. “I think of my times in Hebrew school, eating this stuff all through adulthood. And now, having my own kids, they’re excited to eat these foods. (Latkes and sufganiyah) are fun foods.” 

Huberman said Hanukkah is one of his favorite holidays because of the idea it stands for: Providing light in a world full of darkness. 

“The idea of lighting the menorah is that you’re increasing in light,” he said. “I think it’s a beautiful idea that rather than wrestling with the darkness in this world, you could rather increase in light. And even a small candle dispels so much darkness. And we live in a world where we’re constantly wrestling with darkness, especially now with the war in Israel. But the idea that rather than focusing on the darkness… that you can increase in good deeds, acts of kindness and positivity in your life… I think it’s a very powerful idea.” 

Bianca Algunas, junior psychology major, said her family loves to celebrate Christmas with tamales, a traditional Mexican food many include in their Christmas meals. Tamales are made from masa, which is a dough made from nixtamalized corn, then steamed in corn husk. Tamales are traditionally filled with pork, but can be filled with other ingredients such as chicken, cheese, roasted vegetables or the popular option for sweet tamales, dulce de leche. Tamales can be made with red sauce, made from dried red chiles, or green sauce, made from green chiles or green jalapeños, also known as salsa verde.  

Algunas said she and her family make around 50 to 60 tamales every year on Christmas Eve, starting early in the morning and eating dinner later in the evening. She said the tradition has been carried on through her family for decades. Her family adds their own flair to the tamale recipe, adding carrots, potatoes and olives into their cheese and jalapeño tamales for more flavor. 

“Christmas Eve is special to me because it’s the one time where I know, no matter what, (my family) will be together,” she said. “In my family cooking always brings us together, especially when it’s tamales. That’s something we bond over. (Christmas Eve) always brings us together, this is the only time we put our busy schedules aside and spend the entire day together.” 

Vincent Franco, a 2023 La Verne alumnus, became vegan in 2019, which meant his mother would have to make changes to their traditional Christmas meals. Luckily, he said, being Mexican means making vegan versions of signature dishes like tamales or menudo is not difficult. Tamales can easily be made without pork or chicken. Menudo, a traditional Mexican soup made with cow’s stomach in broth with red chili pepper base, with seasonings hominy, lime, onions and oregano adding flavor to the broth, also only requires the removal of meat. 

Franco and his girlfriend, Marissa Flores, are the only vegans in his family, but his mother prepares a separate portion of vegan tamales and menudo just for Franco and Flores. 

“My mom is a master in the kitchen. She can add mushrooms to (menudo) and it tastes just as good as the original, if not better than it would be with meat,” Franco said. “She does double the cooking, I never asked her to do it, but she takes it as a challenge like, ‘OK, what can I make this kid?’ I’m so grateful and appreciative she supported me.” 

Josiah Manzanares, a 2021 La Verne alumnus, grew up as a Johovah’s Witness and never celebrated any of the major holidays. He said he felt left out as a child watching friends go trick-or-treating for Halloween and celebrating with families on Christmas. Six years ago, his family split from the religion, allowing him to finally take part in the festivities he missed out on. 

His dad makes a honey-glazed ham for Manzanares’ Christmas dinner, while his grandmother and mother make a traditional dish from El Salvador called pupusa, a thick griddle cake or flatbread made from cornmeal or rice flour, from scratch. 

Manzanares said there is something very special about finally celebrating Christmas after spending so many years wishing that he could without being allowed to and seeing his family create their own new traditions. 

“I didn’t really have a lot of that growing up and to be able to experience this now, the wholesome feeling of having your family come together, share a meal together, enjoy the year that passed, and also look forward to the year that’s coming, I think it’s very special to reflect with your family during this time,” he said.

Taylor Moore can be reached at taylor.moore@laverne.edu.

Taylor Moore is a senior broadcast journalism major and Campus Times editor-in-chief for Spring 2024. In her sixth semester on Campus Times, she has served as the LV Life editor and social media editor twice, as well as a staff writer. She’s also worked on the University’s television news broadcast Foothill Community News as an anchor and reporter, and was a on-air personality for the University’s radio station 107.9 LeoFM.

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