The Holiday Table

Turkey is common holiday fare for many, but there are vastly different celebratory food traditions and rituals beyond that. Let’s explore just a few!

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One of the beautiful things about this time of the year is how different cultures mark it with their unique traditions. From now and well into January, there are dozens of religious and secular celebrations that mark this festive time of year. Not surprisingly, food is central to many of these. 

HANUKKAH

Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish festival wintertime celebration that occurs during the month of December. During Hanukkah, latkes (potato pancakes) are a delicious staple of the dinner table. Fried in hot oil, latkes are made from only a few simple ingredients – potatoes, onions, eggs and breadcrumbs or matzo meal. Matzo meal is unleavened flatbread that is ground into fine crumbs. Latkes are meant to be served warm with applesauce and/ or sour cream. 

Fried foods, like latkes, are a very important part of Hanukkah because they represent the oil that, according to Jewish religious text, miraculously lit the menorah for eight days. Other popular Hanukkah dishes include sufganiyot (jelly donuts), challah (braided bread) and beef brisket.

During Hanukkah, latkes (AKA potato pancakes) are a delicious staple of the dinner table.

TURKEY AND TOURTIERE

It is a common tradition in North America to roast a whole turkey for holiday gatherings, complete with bread stuffing, gravy and vegetable accompaniments like mashed potatoes. While this offering works well for a crowd, a bone-in, skin-on turkey breast is a much better option for a smaller gathering. Quick and easy to cook, a brined turkey breast ensures that the meat stays moist and flavorful. 

Quick and easy to cook, a brined turkey breast ensures that the meat stays moist and flavorful.

 As with anywhere in the world, there are various regional dishes that mark the season. Tourtiere is a meat dish that originated in the province of Quebec, Canada. Usually made with minced pork, veal or beef and potatoes, it is a traditional part of the Christmas and New Year's Eve meal in most French-Canadian homes across Canada. 

EUROPE AND BEYOND

In Spain, Christmas dinner is held on December 24th and is as indulgent as it is long. Seafood and shellfish are commonly served, especially shrimp, as well as roasted suckling pig and lamb. Of course, no Spanish holiday would be complete without an Iberico ham, or ‘jamon,’ to share with friends and family over the holidays. Iberico ham is cured pork, known for its smooth texture and rich taste. This indulgent offering is commonly the center-piece for the dinner table. 

If you find yourself in France during the holiday season, your feast will depend on what region you’re in.

If you find yourself in France during the holiday season, your feast will depend on what region you’re in. That said, chilled oysters and caviar are common fare, as are lobster and duck confit – that is duck that has been cooked for several hours in its own fat, beloved for its tenderness. 

While most countries celebrate Christmas on December 25th, Russia celebrates this holiday on January 7th. On this day, you’re likely to find shuba, otherwise referred to as “herring under a fur coat.” This popular Russian holiday dish consists of pickled herring, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, and vegetables like beets and potatoes. 

KWANZAA

Kwanzaa is a celebration, observed in the United States, from December 26th to January 1st, that honors African-American culture. Kwanzaa culminates in gift giving and a feast on December 31st, which can be held at home, church or a community center. The food is served buffet-style and the menu typically consists of traditional African recipes that have been passed down through the generations. Examples of such dishes include catfish, jerk chicken, collard greens and candied yams. Muhindi (ears of corn) are also commonly part of the meal, symbolizing fertility.