Eight days before Christmas, some New Mexicans light a luminaria, a candle nestled in a paper sack, then add an additional glowing luminaria every evening until Christmas, when nine burning lights illumine the holiday darkness.
If this process of kindling flames sounds familiar, it is no coincidence. These New Mexicans are crypto-Jews: descendants of converso colonists who practiced Judaism in secret, fearing the relentless persecution of the Inquisition, whose long reach extended into the New World. Even many of those who became Catholics have kept alive their Jewish traditions to this day, lighting candles on Friday nights, abstaining from pork, observing a feast or fast of Esther, covering mirrors during the mourning period, and maintaining many other Jewish practices.
The fascinating story of these crypto-Jews is still being written. Many are rediscovering and exploring their Jewish roots, some even confirming their Jewishness through DNA testing. Some have converted to Judaism; others feel they have been Jewish all along.
Inspired by them, these sweet potato latkes glow with New Mexican spice.
This dish was featured as part of our Hanukkah Recipes photo gallery.