The month of December is the time of year for holly, mistletoe, dreidels and other seasonal items of cheer and good will. The season also gets packed with lists of endless things to do. The holidays also by the very nature of the season cause people to pause and reflect on the past. Chances are that your holidays are different than the ones that you celebrated as a child or perhaps even the holidays that you celebrated ten or twenty years ago.
As time moves on, things change; some family members who shared your table for holiday meals might have moved away, gotten divorced or passed away. For these families the holiday traditions might still be evolving. For other families, holiday traditions seem to be locked in stone because traditions have traveled through generations. Some people often pull out all the baking pans and begin baking tasty treats for weeks before the holidays. Many people like to return to their ethnic roots for the holidays and make such items as ethnic treats that they remember from childhood. A few examples might include: Springerle a type of German cookies with an embossed design made by pressing a mold onto rolled dough and allowing the impression to dry before baking. Also from Germany is Stollen; a fruit cake, made with rum, spices, and a sugary coating. People with Italian heritage might indulge by enjoying; Italian Cassata Ricotta Cake, authentic Italian biscotti or homemade raviolis. Many ethnic cultures have their own comfort holiday foods. A brief sample of traditional foods include: Zakuski; Russian, fishy appetizers that feature many sour and salty flavors, often served with shots of vodka. Doro Wat on Injera, an Ethiopian a spicy meat stew that is perfect on the spongy bread-like bottom layer that is called injer. I have tried this food adventure and it is delicious. Porkkanalaatiko; popular in Finland, is a spiced carrot casserole that is similar to American sweet potato casserole. In England, Mince pies; which are tiny pies filled with a fruit-and-beef-suet has been a holiday favorite for generations. People with roots in Mexico, and Central and South America traditionally enjoy tamales for the holidays. In many families these are prepared for hours by the ladies of the family and each year lovingly passing on the tradition of making homemade tamales to younger generations. Fried foods like potato pancakes “latkas” in Hebrew and doughnuts are traditional Hanukkah treats because they are cooked in oil and are reminiscent of the miracle of Hanukkah. And last but not least the most popular holiday meal in America is the Traditional Christmas dinner which typically features turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, vegetables and dessert.
Some people cook the traditional holiday dishes for so many years that they no longer remember why it seemed to be an important part of their seasonal traditions. Some families have cherished recipes written on paper that has yellowed with age and continues to be passed down to new generations to be recreated year after year. Many families have favorite cakes, cookies or holidays breads. I have heard one of my neighbors remark, “It won’t seem like the holidays without…”and they’ll end the statement by mentioning the one treat that seems to make their holiday complete.
Growing up as Italian and Catholic, the two elements were combined for the season with special mouth-watering treats. When I was younger, Catholics were not allowed to eat meat on Christmas Eve, so the table was filled with various meatless pastas, fish and other special festive foods. The rule forbidding meat to be eaten on Christmas Eve ended at midnight. So as a small child I remember my grandparents working for days to make homemade Italian sausage. Then just after midnight on Christmas Eve my grandfather would light the barbeque and cook the homemade Italian sausage. It was delicious and a special treat to stay up so late and be able to eat meat after having to abstain from it for over 24-hours; as a child 24-hours without meat seemed like a week. That wonderful tradition ended when my grandparents passed away and religious traditions changed to being less restricted and requiring only a one hour fast from food with no restrictions regarding eating meat.
As a member of the ‘sandwiched’ generation I now am in between new traditions and still haunted by past holiday traditions. How about you – do you have a favorite holiday treat that you can’t live without? What is it? Have you shared the preparation of this food treat with younger members of the family or your extended family? Why not write down the recipe and take a few photos of preparing it and then when you have a quiet moment write down your earliest memories of having this treat. My father-in-law made a delicious meat pie unfortunately he never got around to sharing the preparation of this treat so we keep trying to make it from memory.
I’m always willing to try something new. If you wish to email me or mail me a favorite recipe or two ~ I would love to hear from you! I hope that the holiday season fills you with many wonderful events.
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