Latkes & Christmas Cookies

Homemade Latkes | In Jennie's Kitchen

The title of this post is as contrary as the Christmas tree shaped doughnuts I bought to celebrate the start of Hanukkah earlier this week. Fitting since nestled next to the trio of menorahs stands a real, live tree, adorned with colorful lights and a lifetime of ornaments, each one a breadcrumb of sorts, connecting my past to my present.

It was a little awkward for me putting the tree up this time, each passing year feeling further from my Catholic upbringing, and Christianity in general. At the core of my belief system is to just be a good, kind, decent human being. Putting up a tree might seem harmless, beautiful as it is, and it certainly makes me smile as I sit here writing this post. I’ve not had a real tree in four years. It started to feel like too much work, the sticky sap, trimming it with lights, remembering to water it. 

We were in Brooklyn a few weeks ago, and while walking by the hardware store in my old neighborhood where we often bought our tree, I ran up, did a little happy dance from the fresh pine scent, and hugged one of the trees. Yes, I was literally a tree hugger.

Mind you, I’ve a pine taller than the one at 30 Rock in my backyard, and I never bother to hug it (but I do love it so very much).

My little tree hugging behavior led the girls to beg for a real one all day. I said no, no, and no. And then a few days later decided to surprise them. While they sat home tending to sniffling noses and sore throats, I went out  and pulled into the driveway a few hours later with a seven foot tree strapped to the roof, a tree stand and a roll of 400 rainbow lights in the trunk.

Homemade Latkes | In Jennie's Kitchen

Sitting on an antique white washed wooden bathroom cabinet next to the tree are three menorahs, dreidels, and gelt. Each evening since Sunday, we’ve lit our candles, recited the prayers in Hebrew, and held hands.

The birth of Jesus has never played a part in our Christmas traditions, and therein is the confusion for me. If the religious aspect of it all has no meaning for me, do I have a right to continue the other traditions of baking holiday cookies, building gingerbread houses, and putting up that tree. I don’t know what to make of it all.

What I do know is that it’s okay to still be figuring this all out. In the meantime, I’m going to sling some sugar, butter, flour, and warm wintery spices the next few days to get my holiday baking underway. And in between, I’ll be making latkes as we continue lighting our candles until Hanukkah ends in a few days.

Some favorites from Decembers past

Homemade Latkes (there’s a video of me making them here)

Sufganiyot (homemade jelly doughnuts)

Homemade Doughnut Holes

Italian Rainbow Cookies

Mom’s Gingerbread

Peanut Butter Bon Bons

Candied Pecans


Almond Fennel Biscotti

Homemade Eggnog (a cooked version)

Almond Milk Eggnog (dairy-free)

Gingerbread Favorites

Gingerbread Cake

Gingerbread Chess Pie

Gingerbread Crispy Treats

Gingerbread Scones

Gingerbread Hot Cocoa

Chocolate Gingerbread Streusel Coffee Cake

Gingerbread Poundcake with Eggnog Glaze



  • Yael

    I love how you try to figure this all out with intention, instead of doing the same thing every year just because. And I love that you are sticking to the things that make you and the girls happy – isn’t that what really matters right now?
    Thanks for inspiring me to light candles this year. I hope your beautiful tree, the light from your Chanukkah candles, and all the sweet things you make bring you warmth and joy as the days get colder and darker and this year winds down <3

  • Michelle A

    I’m an atheist, and culturally Jewish…and just lit my menorah while singing the prayers in Hebrew. Religion (for me) is what we make of it, and take from it. Enjoy your tree and menorah just for the sheer beauty of both. (BTW I made your chewy ginger molasses cookies last night – possibly the easiest recipe ever – with the most delicious results! Thanks!)

  • Linda Wittmaier

    I don’t know how to say this without seeming disrespectful, but here goes. I really enjoy your blog and wish your family all of the best. You have been through so much and my heart breaks for your loss. As a Christian I find this post incredibly sad, I don’t know what your experience was growing up Catholic but I’m sorry that you missed out on the beauty and hope that Jesus brought through his life and death for all people. Wishing you joy this holiday season.

  • Jennie

    See, the problem here is there is no way to say what you wrote above without being disrespectful. Is it really that hard to understand that as humans we all differ, and different things speak to us? I went to Catholic school for half my elementary years, and by seventh grade I knew it, and Catholicism, wasn’t for me. A good Christian wouldn’t cast judgement as you are so clearly doing in your very insensitive comment, fraught with thought for only yourself without a care for anyone else who thinks differently. The diverging view between Christianity and Judaism is whether or not Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and the whole idea of being born of sin, and needing to repent for it my entire life—that is not for me. It is fine if that is what calms your heart and mind, but to feel sad for me is condescending and exactly what I hope my children grow up with the courage to stand up against. I wish you a peace-filled holiday season, and the ability to see others choices with a more open-minded approach in the coming new year.

  • Lorette Lavine

    This is a season of Light which can be celebrated in so many different ways or not at all. It certainly is not part of my Catholic religion to feel sorry for those who have different beliefs and different meaningful ways of celebrating Life and the various holidays secular or religious. We have a mixed religion home and we used to call it the December Dilemma when both my family and my husband’s family celebrated differently. Through love and respect we have made our holidays our own over the last 40+ years and that has made all the difference.

  • lm

    The solstice celebrations came before the Christian church appropriated the date. There is a Roman solar holiday on 12/25. From wiki -the Emperor Aurelian, who in 274 instituted the holiday of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, did so partly as an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already important for Christians in Rome.

    It is natural to want to bring in greens and use pretty lights in the darkest season! Very comforting to sustain us in the cold (although it was 60 in Virginia today) and to remind us that this is temporary.
    I recommend reading up on all the pagan celebrations. It cheers me up.
    Looking forward to finding an inspiring recipe! Happy New Year.

  • Tracey Long

    You do you. You always have! I commend you and trying to find your way around the holidays. It’s not easy and your girls will love every tradition you do!!! Happy New Year to you!!

  • Vanessa Macarthur

    My all time favorite post by you. The person who put into words the condescending belief of so many gave you the opportunity to speak for many. Your strength and eloquence is needed when someone voices an opinion that needs to be challenged.