What’s on Your Family Table During the Holiday Season?

Photo courtesy monpetitfour.com. ‘Tis the season of good cheer, celebrations, family, and food. No matter what holiday you celebrate during December, food is certainly a big part of the festivities. For many of us, honey baked ham, turkey, beef tenderloin or prime rib takes center stage. Even the growing-in-popularity turducken – that chicken stuffed into a duck and then into a turkey – has become a favorite on many a holiday table. And if brunch is the preferred holiday meal on Christmas day, you can bet tables are filled with egg and cheese casseroles, sizzling sausages and coffee cakes.
Do you have a family favorite holiday food? Whether it's ethnic or just festive, tell us about it. Leave a comment after this article or on our Facebook page
Ethnic foods are also part of holiday celebrations. This is a time when people hold onto their traditions – remembering Middle Eastern pastry baking with their mothers, rolling grape leaves into dolmades with their grandmothers, and stuffing cannoli desserts with Uncle Sal barking instructions. Here's a taste of some of the most popular. The French serve their yule log cakes called Bûche de Noël. Reminiscent of the wooden logs families once burned to stay warm, these delightful desserts can be enjoyed in vanilla, hazelnut and chocolate. La Fournette, a charming French bakery in Old Town, specializes in Bûche de Noël and other French delights such as the almond-topped champagne sourdough brioche. And for those with German heritage, the Springerle biscuit is a Christmas favorite. This anise-flavored cookie is available at Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston. Have a taste for a cannoli this Christmas? (Scarfuri Bakery on Taylor Street makes cannoli stuffing simple with their ready-to-assemble kits.) Greeks have always celebrated Christmas with special foods and desserts. Kristina Cowan carries on her dad’s Greek heritage by making dolmades and lamb and stewed-tomato manestra (Greek word for orzo). And for her two children, the delicious kourabiedes (butter cookie rolled in powdered sugar) is a holiday favorite.
“We love to carry on my Greek family traditions, and the kids love helping with the cookies. Of course, powdered sugar goes everywhere!”
Many folks with Slovenian heritage have fond memories of great aunts and grandmothers coming over on Christmas day having spent hours preparing the classic Slovenia potica (also known as povitica). This traditional leavened cake can be enjoyed just about any time during the holiday season. While it has as many as 40 different filling variations, among the most popular are walnut, poppy seed, honey, and carob.
Geoff Miller says, “As a child, we looked forward to having it every year. My favorite was the walnut-filled potica. Preparing the pastry just so is the key to perfection. There’s an art to getting it right, and as much as I love it, I’ve not yet tackled it in my kitchen.”
One Chicago Chinese family celebrates the holiday season with a good old-fashioned American tradition: dry-rub ribs for the holidays. “It’s a funny image: first generation Chinese folks deciding that an American summer classic is the star attraction during the winter holidays,” explains Sherry Zhong, 3CR Lit page editor. Oyster stew is a classic dish on Christmas Eve. Yet it seems the origin for this is mixed according to Fill Your Plate. It is common in more than one culture with Irish, Mexican and Italian families enjoying some variation of the stew. And for those celebrating Hanukkah, potato latkes, matzo ball soup and brisket are family favorites. New Year’s brings out more than just the bubbly. Many mark the New Year with customs and foods designed to promote good luck, health and prosperity. One family places an electric grill at the center of the table each year to cook noodles, vegetables and meats. “It’s an engaging, social, and participatory process, not to mention delicious, too,” says Colin S. Smith, 3CR music writer. A special Greek ritual is the baking of vasilopita (Sweet Bread of Basil) or New Year’s bread. A coin is buried in each loaf of bread before it’s baked, and the person who gets the coin in his or her piece on New Year’s Day is promised good luck for the entire year. And we mustn't forget black-eyed peas and greens – traditional foods often eaten on New Year’s Day. The Spruce provides a look at the symbolism of these holiday foods. Regardless of our backgrounds, we all enjoy special dishes and traditions during the holiday season. Whether it’s tacos, tamales and enchiladas, or chili, chicken wings and biscuits, we all have our go-to foods. And when we bring a touch of ethnicity into our celebrations, we’re all the more reminded of how lovely the holidays can be.
Holidays revolve around cooking in my family. It's what Polish folks do. Thanksgiving has turkey and all the trimmings AND kielbasa and sauerkraut at the very least, and Christmas, though less complicated and time-consuming, is not without its add-ons. You'd expect pierogis, but since we're still exhausted from the toils of Thanksgiving, and ham is more of a heat-up than a feat of cooking, we turn to the baked goods side of things to celebrate our Polish heritage. This means among the thumbprints, sugar cookies and spritzes, there will be kolacky. Some people make them big and round like any other cookie, but ours are delicate, soft and accumulate a healthy (or unhealthy) amount of powdered sugar. As a kid, the traditional flavors – especially prune and apricot, were a complete no-go for me, so I'd carefully pick through them for some of the "other" ones - cherry, strawberry – whatever else was on hand and not "disgusting" to my somewhat arrested palate. These days though, I’m crazy about the apricots with their translucent golden glow and wonderful taste. I don't know why we don't make kolacky more often, since they're not particularly difficult to make, but I do know it's not Christmas without a little bit of powdered sugar on my shirt from sampling these sweets. — Beyond editor Marielle Shaw
Do you have a family favorite holiday food? Whether it's ethnic or just festive, tell us about it. Leave a comment after this article or on our Facebook page
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Cynthia Kallile