Sufganiyot, or sufganiyah (singular), are really just jelly donuts. (As a matter of fact, most Jews nowadays actually just call them jelly donuts.) The term is Hebrew, and these donuts are typically served during Hanukkah along with latkes as a tribute to the miracle that happened at the site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
The Maccabees had won against the Syrian-Greeks in battle, but at great cost — the Holy Temple had been desecrated by their enemies. After their victory, the Maccabees set out to rededicate the temple, but discovered they only had enough oil to keep the eternal lamp burning for one day. Miraculously, this small bit of oil lasted a full eight days, long enough so that more supplies could be brought from afar.
Sufganiyot are served during Hanukkah for the same reason as latkes: they are cooked in oil to commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah lights. As an example of food symbolism, sufganiyot goes pretty deep. The word "sufganiyot" is based on the Hebrew word "sfog," which means "sponge," and as donuts soak up oil like sponges, the name seems appropriate. But enough linguistic history… time to bury your face in some powdered sugar!
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.