Mojo-marinated pork and crispy, fried latkes are going to be competing for space on holiday tables Saturday.
That’s because this year, the first night of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, celebrated in Latin cultures as Noche Buena, fall on the same day.
You can blame it on the Lunar calendar. Hanukkah can be as early as Thanksgiving, or in this case, run into the New Year.
Many South Floridians will be celebrating one or the other — or both.
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Merri Mann, 74, of Miami Beach, is looking forward to a joint Hanukkah-Christmas Eve celebration where there will be a menorah, Christmas tree, latkes and Nicaraguan fare. Her daughter, who was raised Jewish, is married to a Catholic man. They are raising their children in the Jewish faith but are celebrating the holidays together.
“This way you get a chance to see how other people celebrate,” Mann said. “Especially today where there is so much mistrust of people, it’s healthy for the kids to see that part of their family believes in Christmas and part celebrates Hanukkah. … It will be an example of how all faiths can live together in peace.”
Julian Kreeger, president of Miami’s Friends of Chamber Music, will celebrate the first night of Hanukkah with his family, lighting the candles and eating a traditional Hanukkah dinner that includes potato latkes (topped with applesauce and sour cream) and brisket. The next night, they will join the Christmas celebration of James Judd, the conductor, and his family, who make a typical British Christmas dinner, including a roast beef with roasted potatoes. (Judd is British.)
Meanwhile, Morton Levitt of Boca Raton and his family are throwing a Hanukkah party with a twist. They will serve the traditional brisket, latkes and jelly doughnuts for Hanukkah, but also will include a holiday ham for their Christmas Eve-celebrating guests.
“While we can’t control the calendars, the juxtaposition of both holidays this year reminds us of how the holiday period can really be universal,’’ Levitt told Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have shared their insights with the Miami Herald and WLRN.
So here’s a handy guide for navigating this day when cultures coincide and party hopping is in the cards.
What do you call it?
Chrismukkah? That’s one trendy way to combine the two.
A funny thing happens when you try to directly translate the Hebrew word for dedication, which defines the Jewish holiday: You can’t. So you get something like 16 different spellings for the holiday.
The most popular? Hanukkah, Chanukkah and Hanukah. (For the record, the Miami Herald goes with Hanukkah.)
Christians from Latin cultures celebrate the vigil for the birth of Jesus Christ, usually capping it with midnight Mass. Jews celebrate the miracle of light. For more than 2,000 years, Jews were banned from practicing in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah marks the re-dedication of the Temple.
What’s on the table?
For Catholics from Latino backgrounds, Noche Buena calls for the caja china, the outdoor oven on wheels where a whole pig is roasted and becomes the centerpiece of the celebration. If you’re attending your first Latin pig roast, expect people to constantly try to open the box, which will slow down cooking time from about three hours to as long as five to six.
For Jews, frying latkes in oil represents celebrating the miracle that says a small quantity of oil, used to light the Temple’s menorah, lasted eight days, instead of only one day. (Hence, the eight days of Hanukkah). The oil is used in another popular Hanukkah treat — sufganiyot (or jelly doughnuts).
Dining out, instead? Know that many South Florida restaurants have dining deals going on to celebrate Noche Buena or Hanukkah. Blackbrick Chinese & Dim Sum in Midtown is hosting a Jewish Christmas Menu for $45 that includes wonton soup, cumin lamb ribs with cilantro aioli and General Tso’s Florida gator.
Eating House in Coral Gables is hosting Mañana Buena Christmas Eve brunch with holiday twists on Latin classics: vaca frita buns, porchetta pan con lechon, coquito pancakes and guava mimosas.
What’s in your glass?
That’s not eggnog, friend. Many Latin households celebrate the season with a boozy cousin to eggnog, redolent with the spices that the season calls to mind: cinammon, cloves and nutmeg. Cubans drink a spice-and-rum-soaked version called crema de vie. Puerto Ricans traditionally make it with a twist, coconut cream, and call it coquito. Both are delicious. Both can pack a wallop, depending on who the mixologist is. Tread lightly.
At a Hanukkah party, drinks are often given fun names like gelt (chocolate coins) martini or the dreidel, which includes plum brandy. Blue Curaçao also is a fun way to bring blue to the table. Hanukkah’s traditional colors are blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag. But blue and white goes back to the Bible when the Israelites were told to dye a thread on their prayer shawls with tekhelet, a blue ink from a sea snail.
What’s under the wrapping paper?
If you’re in a strict Latin household: nothing. That’s because traditional Hispanic cultures don’t unwrap gifts on Christmas Day. They celebrate with a feast in anticipation of the birth of Christ on the 24th but don’t exchange gifts until the 12th day of Christmas, Three Kings Day, when the wise men are said to have brought Jesus gifts. Instead of leaving out cookies and milk, many Latino families leave out water for the thirsty wise men and hay for their camels. Children wake up on Jan. 6 to their presents.
The first day of Hanukkah, however, means day one of eight straight days of gift-giving. Hanukkah is not a High Holy holiday, but more of a day of “re-dedication” that has converged with holiday gift-giving.
What else is there to do?
Give back. In South Florida, Christmas Day is a day when many who are off volunteer in their communities.
The Greater Miami Jewish Federation often hosts a volunteer day, where adults and children go to hospitals, homeless shelters and assisted living facilities to bring holiday cheer. The Miami Rescue Mission, Camillus House and the Salvation Army also rely on philanthropic South Floridians during the holidays.
Jacob Solomon, the president of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, said that for decades the Jewish community has used Christmas Day as a day to do good for others.
“We are helping people in need and we are giving people who celebrate a chance to do so,” Solomon said. “It’s a double-Mitzvah(good deed.)”
This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their insights with the Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at http://www.miamiherald.com/site-services/public-insight-network/.