The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story

McSweeney’s Books  2007


Lemony Snicket surely must have been one of those children who saw the story of the Gingerbread Man in a different light. The fate of a talking cookie eaten by a fox and suffering horrible agony offers a myriad of macabre scenarios to a certain type of kid. Now he brings his particular brand of wry adult humor to the story of Hanukah by introducing us to an unfortunate latke with a doomed destiny. The very amusing story takes place at the time of year “during which children pressed their faces to the windows looking for a glimpse of a man who they suspected of bringing them wonderful gifts.” The children of the village hear a terrible noise. The droll narration explains that this is the noise of a newly born latke “slapped into a pan full of olive oil and heated to a very high temperature.” As the potato pancake runs screaming through the village, he passes various secular items that relate to an unnamed winter holiday, such as flashing colored lights, a candy cane, and a pine tree. Each successive encounter provides the latke with the opportunity for a hurried explanation of his life’s purpose. “My mouthwatering smell is part of the cozy feeling of Hanukah...It reminds us that things are better now then they were in 175 BCE, when my people were not allowed to practice their religion.” Unfortunately for the latke, the symbols prove to be a bit daft, and fail to grasp that the poor guy has nothing to do with Christmas. This infuriates the misunderstood latke, who continues screaming, although by now he has traveled far from the boiling oil. Eventually a cheerful (Jewish) family enters the pine forest where the exhausted latke is trying to explain to a tree why the concept of presents for Hanukah is not such a big deal. They scoop up the latke and bring him home. The last page is worth printing in its entirety for the author’s dry take on the modern Hanukah/Christmas Dilemma:

It is very frustrating not to be understood in this world. If you say one thing and keep being told that you mean something else, it can make you want to scream. But somewhere in the world there is a place for all of us, whether you are an electric form of decoration, peppermint-scented sweet, a source of timber, or a potato pancake. On a cold, snowy night, everyone and everything should be welcomed somewhere, and the latke was welcomed into a home full of people who understood what a latke is, and how it fits into its particular holiday.

And then they ate it. AAAHHHH!!

Ages 6–adult.

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