Without question, food is one of the best parts of the holidays. It’s almost magical how the smell of something special baking in the oven or just one bite can immediately transport you to another time and place. And it’s not just holiday memories that food can inspire — food can bring true meaning to the holidays.
I love a good gingerbread man as much as the next guy, but I also love hearing about unique and interesting holiday food traditions from other families. More than the fact that these traditions are interesting and inspiring, hearing the backstory gives such a great peek into other people’s lives and the way they experience the holidays.
My husband Nate and I adopted his parents’ tradition of ordering Chinese takeout on Christmas Eve. That food tradition started years ago when Nate was growing up. Christmas Eve was always so busy for his parents so they decided to take the pressure off by ordering out. Since the local Chinese restaurant was always open for Christmas and everyone in the family loved Chinese food it was a no brainer! Fast forward several decades and Nate’s parents are still following the tradition, along with their children and grandchildren near and far!
I recently asked my friends and Babble staffers about their unique holiday food traditions and they shared some really great stories and traditions. I’m thinking of adopting a few of these for our own family!
Fun with Food!
I love the unusual tradition my friend Evaly’s family follows. They hide a big nut in JELL-O for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Whipped cream or fruit is mixed in so that the nut stays hidden. Whoever finds it in their serving wins a prize. Everyone eagerly looks forward to this 50-year-old tradition each year.
Megan, one of Babble’s editors, has another unique one. For the past 15 years, her dad has been taking a big batch of walnuts, cracking half of them open, placing money inside, gluing the walnuts back together, spray painting all of them gold, and then hanging them on the tree. Each person gets their pick of one walnut, hoping that there’s money inside! Her family also makes Aunt Beth’s Secret Recipe for sweet potatoes. The secret may or may not involve buying sweet potatoes from Boston Market and melting marshmallows over the top to make them look homemade. We’ll never tell.
Babble staffer Carmen’s family has a lot of birthdays in November and December so, in addition to traditional holiday desserts, they always order a custom birthday cake with a completely non-holiday theme. Disney and game shows are always a favorite!
Baking Up Memories!
Avant-Garde Cross Buns
Kelly from Babble has a great, unique family food tradition that has been passed down for at least four generations. They make bread, similar to hot cross buns, that they shape into Christmas trees. They’re decorated immediately after coming out of the oven with candies, colored frosting, sugars, and other confections. The goal is to make it look as much like a Christmas tree as possible … unless someone catches the avant-garde bug. Take Kelly’s tree last year — it was inspired by Jackson Pollock!
Heather, another Babble friend, said her mom would always make special Christmas linzer tarts, but since their family was mixed faith, her mother would shape the cookies into both traditional Christmas shapes and dreidels!
An International Christmas!
Noelle’s family tradition is three generations old. They cook an authentic Hungarian meal, using recipes passed down for more than 75 years and served on the same china her family has been using for over 40 years. Some favorites: pork roast stuffed with garlic and topped with caraway seeds, handmade potato dumplings, sweet sauerkraut, homemade stuffing, and homemade orange cranberry sauce.
Shelby, of Babble, has a similar tradition to our family but the origins are very different. Shelby’s family also eats Chinese food on Christmas Eve but the tradition started three generations ago, when her grandparents enjoyed an elaborate dinner prepared by their Chinese-American best friend. Her family happily continued the tradition, both for the memories and to save time on ever-busy Christmas Eve. They even eat the leftovers for breakfast Christmas morning!
Chrysula’s family in Australia indulges in prawns, lobster, crab, and all kinds of salads and fresh fruit for Christmas. She misses this food tradition terribly as these work much better in the 90-degree weather of Australia’s summer rather than the frigid cold of Connecticut!
Heather’s family sticks with a lot of Scandinavian food for Christmas. On the Eve, they always have fish with boiled potatoes, carrots, peas, and, Heather estimates, about 295 pounds of butter. When Christmas morning rolls around, they use the leftovers to make plukkfisk, a white, creamy fish stew, for BREAKFAST. Both meals are followed by julekage, traditional Norwegian Christmas bread, and joulutorttu, Finnish Christmas prune tarts. Add another 32 pounds of butter to eat with the julekage and Christmas is complete!