Unique Holiday Food Traditions


It’s safe to say that the holiday season is all about food. However, while food is certainly a common denominator, the types of cuisine people make at this time of year are just as diverse as the cultures and backgrounds that make this country great. Holiday food traditions often date back hundreds of years, and for many families, these traditions are ingrained into the spirit of the season as much as anything else. So, let’s look at some of the more unique food traditions and how they fit into the modern holiday landscape.

Interesting Holiday Facts and Trivia

Turkey is a popular dish for many families, but not many know it came about because of a royal decree. During the 16th century, King Henry VIII decided turkey would be the main course for holiday meals, and the tradition stuck. In fact, many Christmas and holiday traditions can trace their lineage back to England or Europe during this era.

For example, eggnog dates back to the 13th century in England when monks made an early version of the beverage. Similarly, gingerbread houses date back to Germany in the early 1800s. The story of Hansel and Gretel helped popularize the treat outside of Germany.

The holidays themselves also have their DNA rooted in ancient festivals and traditions. One example is the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, held on December 17th every year. However, like modern celebrators, ancient Romans turned a single day into a weeklong festival—any reason to celebrate longer.

Other cultures, like the Maya, also had year-end celebrations and festivals like Ka’Tun, which helped bring communities together through food, wine, and religious customs.

Unique Holiday Food Traditions

The United States is a great melting pot of different cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. So, holiday celebrations across the country can take on unique elements. Some of these holiday food traditions include:

Christmas Tamales in the Southwest

Tamales are a staple of Hispanic holiday meals, with the dish often being prepared in large quantities around November and December. So, the Southwest, with its large Hispanic population, is a tamale paradise. For some, it’s just not the holiday season without a few tamales on the table.

Italian-American Feast of the Seven Fishes

For those who love seafood and are Italian, the Feast of Seven Fishes is likely a long-held family tradition. This feast always takes place on Christmas Eve, and multiple generations of family members are often involved in preparing and cooking each dish. The feast starts with finger foods (i.e., peel-and-eat shrimp), then moves to salad, soup, pasta, whole fish, a palate cleanser, and then dessert.

The specifics of the feast change from one family to the next, but almost every dish (except the last two) involves some type of seafood.

History of Hanukkah Foods

Although Hanukkah isn’t the biggest holiday in Judaism, the celebration is still part of the winter season for Jewish families. Many big cities with Jewish communities go all-in on Hanukkah treats, including Loukoumades (fried puff pastries), pancakes, and latkes.

Kwanzaa’s Culinary Tapestry

Unlike Christmas and Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. Instead, it’s become a celebration of African heritage, so it’s celebrated across the African Diaspora, including the US, Caribbean, and other parts of the world.

As far as food, many of the holiday food traditions of Kwanzaa are colorful and include options like jollof rice, candied yams, and fried plantains. Many southern dishes have also been incorporated into Kwanzaa, such as collard greens, cornbread, gumbo, and peach cobbler.

Global Influences on Modern Holiday Cuisine

In modern times, the world is much smaller and more accessible than in years past. As different cultures blend and merge in various corners of the globe, it’s natural for them to share their foods and celebrations. So, many people may celebrate multiple holidays and partake in a wide variety of cuisines.

Social media also makes it easier to learn about unique holiday food traditions and how to make specific dishes easier. The more people share their culture, the more others want to participate in the celebration.

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