WINNIPEG - If Nate Thompson was home for the first night of Chanukah on Sunday, he'd most definitely be indulging in some traditional holiday fare.
The 35-year-old centerman, who completed his conversion to Judaism in July 2018, has a real thing for potato latkes - which are essentially potato pancakes - and he craves them this time of year.
"I love latkes, big time," affirmed Thompson last week after practice at Downtown Community Arena in Edmonton. "I love latkes and matzo ball soup. Those are probably my two favorite things. And challah bread. It's all good."
Thompson's annual latke fix is just days away. Only one game remains on the Western Canada road trip before the Canadiens return to Montreal for a three-day break.
And his wife, Sydney, plans on hooking him up with his favorite Chanukah dish upon his return. She'll be whipping up a batch herself for them to enjoy during "an official Chrismukkah dinner" on Boxing Day.
But latkes won't be the only item on the menu to mark the Jewish Festival of Lights.
"I'll probably do some blintzes. Those were my favorite growing up. And we'll also have rugelach (a baked pastry), too. They're my absolute favorite now," revealed Thompson's better half, who was born and raised Jewish in Southern California. "We'll light our menorah candles and there'll be Chanukah gelt (chocolate money). We'll make it feel like we're together with our family members, except it's just going to be us."
While the Chrismukkah meal will have a real Chanukah emphasis, Sydney is adamant about acknowledging her husband's past as well.
Blending Christmas and Chanukah together during the coming week remains a priority.
"It's important to me that he doesn't lose the fact that he celebrated Christmas his whole life until he met me. On Christmas Day, we're still going to wake up and we'll have presents," she said. "And we'll do little gifts for the eight days of Chanukah, too."
Those "little gifts" will probably be hidden away in the blue and white Chanukah stockings Sydney has displayed in the couple's condo.
Knowing his wife, though, Nate suspects there might be a few more holiday treats in store that he isn't aware of just yet.
"She usually surprises me with a couple of things, whether it's gifts or food. I try to do the same, but I'm maybe not as good as she is," joked Thompson. "That's usually kind of the tradition."
He's absolutely right about Sydney having a surprise up her sleeve, by the way. But we're going to keep it a secret.
So where does Chanukah rank on Nate's list of his favorite Jewish holidays?
"I'd probably put it right up there with Yom Kippur and Passover," confided Thompson. "I love it. Judaism is so family-oriented and everyone is always together. That's the biggest thing that jumps out at me."
'Going through the conversion process, he learned so much'
While the 13-year NHL veteran is still relatively new to the Jewish faith, Sydney believes he's taken to it rather well.
She says he really put his heart and soul into familiarizing himself with the intricacies of the religion ahead of their August 2018 wedding.
"Going through the conversion process, he learned so much. He studied so intensely for so long that he knows every little detail. To him, it was important to know everything," she revealed "As we move forward in our marriage and raise our children, he wants to make sure that when we do celebrate the holidays, we do it right - have the right foods and say the right prayers. He also wants to make sure that we're doing it right so we can explain it properly to his son and my step-son, Teague. So when we celebrate something like Chanukah, he wants to do it the right way. He doesn't want to make mistakes, and neither do I."
At the Canadiens' Christmas party a couple of weeks ago, the Thompsons sported custom Chanukah sweaters that Sydney made herself.
And they actually won the ugly sweater contest, too.
Nate's conversion was a topic of conversation at the event, and discussing the matter openly really put things in perspective.
"We were actually talking about it with some of the other couples, how big of a deal it was that he went through it. Holidays like this mean so much more now. I'm that much more proud of him that he knows everything that goes with it," added Sydney. "Because he's newly Jewish, and we're somewhat newly married, it's very exciting to celebrate these holidays with your husband."
Simply put, the respect Sydney has for her man is off the charts.
"I have a lot of gratitude and love for him for everything that he's done and for our relationship. I don't know if I can even verbalize it properly," she concluded. "Having a husband that's gone through conversion, and not just for me but for himself, and for the religion, he really loves all aspects of it. You really see how much of a beautiful person he is."