Food. Traditions and the holidays always come back to food. Dinners, buffets, desserts, treats, it’s all about the food. I remember many holiday food traditions growing up.
There is a huge list of traditional family recipes that always made a holiday appearance. These include: pumpkin roll (aforementioned), spiced & sugared nuts, boiled custard (no eggnog in this family), cranberry-orange relish, mincemeat pie, Grandmother’s sweet potatoes/yams, peanut butter and/or chocolage fudge, and mulled apple cider.
There were also regularly appearing appetizers: warmed cream cheese w/jalapeño jelly, spinach dip, sour cream and onion dip, brie warmed with marmelade and almonds on top, and mixed nuts. Other appetizers might get mixed in for a year depending on what people brought with them, but somehow we always went back to the same core group.
Our Christmas dinner was much like our Thanksgiving meal. It consisted of a random and eclectic group of people who’s family didn’t live close enough to visit, much like our family, which is scattered all over the U.S. and now the world. The dinner itself was a feast, involving many of the above recipes, a yummy turkey and/or ham (sometimes even a roast), stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies (green bean casserole anyone?), rolls, and whatever our guests chose to bring and share from their own holiday food traditions. We all sat around and ate and talked and laughed. Somehow, despite the fact that the only thing everyone there had in common was knowing our family, we always had a good time.
[We also had a specific New Year’s Day dinner, but more on that in a later post.]
Remember when you used to give holiday gifts to your teachers? And if you live somewhere where you can still do that, remember when they could be homemade treats? We did that every year. My sister and I would make pumpkin rolls and the spiced & sugared nuts for our teachers each year. Mom of course helped us, but she tried to make sure we did as much of it as possible to really be able to say the gift was from us. We’d get nice food gift containers to put the nuts in, and wrap the pumpkin rolls in foil and tie the ends with ribbon so they looked pretty. Then we’d haul them into school on the last day before break and give them out. I don’t remember a teacher ever saying no, and I don’t remember ever worrying about health, diet, food allergy or any other concern. We just assumed they’d be able to eat and enjoy them.
To this day I bring food to holiday parties, whether at work or a friend’s place. Only now, I bring a copy of the recipe along for everyone to see just in case someone can’t eat something that’s in what I’ve made.
Our stockings always contained food in addition to little gifts, specifically nuts, candy, and fruit. Pistachios were the favorite nut, followed by walnuts and almonds, all of them still in the shells and needing the nutcracker to get to the meaty goodness. Of course the candy involved chocolate (Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, chocolate covered marshmallow Santas, Peppermint Patties, cherry cordials for my sister, Godiva truffles for my mom) and sometimes hard candy. But mostly chocolate.
To add to the chocolate and nut goodness, we had oranges and apples. As a bonus, each year Santa brought a new and different “exotic” fruit to try like star fruit, kiwi, mango, pomegranate, etc. These were fruits that when I was young you didn’t often see in the supermarket, except in the really expensive area and there was never very much of it. So Christmas morning after we emptied our stockings we all tried the fruit with breakfast. Some years were more successful than others. Kiwi and mango are still some of my favorite fruits. Star fruit, on the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten since. I don’t remember it tasting like much, although it was pretty to look at.
Mom always put Hershey’s Kisses in decorative Christmas bowls around the house. The living room, the family room, the kitchen counter, they all had bowls/dishes with red, silver and green foil wrapped Hershey’s Kisses. We would all walk by the bowls and grab a Kiss (or two) throughout the holiday.
Unfortunately, as pretty as they were, these were a temptation to the pets. Both animals would eat them, and it’s a wonder they didn’t get sick but somehow they never did. But you could tell which animal ate them. When the cat ate them, she removed the foil. You’d find this nice little pile of foil on the table next to the bowl. And she’d only eat one or two. The dog on the other hand would eat the entire bowl, foil and all. For days afterwards you could look out into the backyard and see little glints of the foil sparkling in the sun, almost like twinkling lights in the daytime. Disgusting, I know, yet strangely pretty.
Mom still put the Hershey’s Kisses out, but she started using candy jars with tight fitting lids instead of the bowls. I’m now the proud owner of one such candy jar; it’s shaped like a snowman and currently has red and green M&Ms in it. Yum.