Given the disjunction between the lunar Hebrew calendar and solar Gregorian calendar, every Jewish holiday seems to happen early this year.
That means Hanukkah, the festival of lights, makes a rare November appearance in 2013 and starts tonight.
In Canada, Hanukkah's importance is exaggerated due to its proximity to Christmas. On a religious basis, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover are all far more important. So are Sukkot and Shavuot, two holidays non-Jews rarely ever hear about.
But Hanukkah is fraught with symbolic importance, as it marks the winter solstice and carries a message of renewal and perseverance. And, like many Jewish holidays, it serves as an occasion to eat something fantastic -- even if you didn't grow up on a diet of chopped liver and gefilte fish.
Traditionally, Hanukkah is a time to eat foods fried in oil. The reason is both historical and religious: After the defeat of a Seleucid occupying force in 165 B.C., Judeans returned to a ransacked temple to find only a small quantity of sacramental oil.
According to the story -- or history, if you're religious -- the oil nonetheless burned for a miraculous eight days. Two thousand years later, Jews commemorate this feat by eating potato pancakes, jelly doughnuts known as sufganiot and pretty much anything else you can fry in oil.
Most Canadians, of course, don't need an excuse to eat fried foods. But why not begin the holiday-indulgence season early?
In the spirit of the season, here's a primer to two Hanukkah foods commonly consumed in Canada -- by Jews and even people who cannot claim an ethnic kinship to William Shatner and Sarah Silverman:
What are they? Potato pancakes, fried in oil.
Come again? "Lat-kah." You can always just say "potato pancake."
The goods: There are two common ways to make latkes. The most common involves grating or shredding potatoes into strips, binding them with egg batter and frying them up. But some folks pressure-mash or grind cooked potatoes and then fry up a double-cooked latke. Green onions season both varieties. There are also variations featuring yams, beets and other root vegetables.
Top it off: Sour cream and either applesauce or hot sauce.
Mainstream popularity: Potato pancakes appear on all manner of breakfast menus, way beyond the realm of the Jewish deli.
What are they? Jelly-filled doughnuts, sprinkled with sugar.
Come again? "Soof-gah-nee-yoht." A single doughnut is a sufganiah, or "soof-gah-nee-yah."
The goods: Round, sprinkled with ordinary sugar and stuffed with raspberry or strawberry jam. Like all doughnuts, they must be eaten fresh.
Mainstream popularity: True sufganiot are all but unknown outside Jewish bakeries such as Gunn's. Even its cousin, the powdered jelly doughnut, is rarely available at Tim Hortons these days.