December 24 2012 by Mike Mason
We all have ancestors that arrived from other countries or maybe we're the first generation to celebrate the holidays here, either way, traditional holiday foods have come with us. In my family, we adhere very closely to traditions. If I try to move the Christmas tree even one foot to where it always goes, there's an outcry because that's "not where we ALWAYS put it." The same goes for the foods we bake, cook and serve at our gatherings and at the dinner table. I'll start with what my family's traditions and work my way around the country.
We always embraced my mother's heritage coming from Ireland and Scotland. Many of the Irish entrees are the same as the Thanksgiving table....ham, turkey or roast beef. Oh, potatoes, lots and lots of potatoes. In our home, the Irish custom on Christmas Eve was Oyster Stew.
It was with some relief when I married that my wife's family celebrated traditional foods from Norway. Which meant more potatoes - but thankfully not Oyster Stew. Our Christmas Eve involves boiled cod, potatoes and onions - all wrapped up in something resembling a tortilla called lefsa. Despite the way it sounds, it's delicious. We pair that with rice pudding and we have a hearty, traditional Norwegian meal. The best part of this is that all of my family sets aside a day to make the lefsa all together.
In the southwest, the celebration of Christmas in a traditional Mexican way involves traditional Christmas food that is rarely if ever served during any other time of the year. One of those is a dish known as "bacalao a la vizcaina" - a dish made of up salted dried cod, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, olives, capers and red bell peppers. Another popular favorite are the hand-made tamales. Making tamales started with the Native American people and shared with Spanish explorers. Because making tamales is so time consuming, they are considered a special dish to be made on special holidays and occasions.
Hanukkah is always celebrated in December and is a Festival of Lights over the span of 8 days. Traditional foods during Hanukkah are latkes which are cooked in oil, to symbolize the oil that burned in the temple over 8 days. Other traditional foods at the table are Kasha Varnishkes -Kasha buckwheat groats cooked with onions and chicken stock, then mixed with bowtie pasta for a classic Jewish dish. Brisket and applesauce and also a favorite dish served.
In Canada, the traditional Christmas dinner resembles the same menu as in the United States - roast turkey with vegetables and sauces. The sweets are fruity Christmas puddings with brandy sauce and mince pies. In Quebec, a family favorite is pork pie and "Boulettes" or small meatballs.
There are so many cultures and traditions being celebrated in the United States and Canada today. Each ethnic group celebrates in wonderful and unique ways, each one serving delectable delicacies reminding us of our past and our heritage and giving us the opportunity to pass them along to our children.
Do you have holiday food and traditions that you celebrate each year? If so, let me know. I'd love to read about them.