It seems wherever you are in the world, the holiday season focuses on food, friends, and family. Each of the host of celebrations has their own traditions, including foods and flavours that have been passed down through the generations. Here’s a look at Hanukah, Juleaften, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, and the foods often served.
Latkes for Hanukah (December 22-30, 2019)
The Jewish Festival of Lights is an eight-day celebration of hope and freedom, after the Maccabean Revolt. During the rededication of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple, only one day’s worth of oil was available, but the menorah burned for eight. This is now known as the miracle of the oil.
During each night of Hanukah, candles are lit, and prayers are said. There’s often one evening when family and friends will gather, play the dreidel game, and have a communal supper. The regional foods served are symbolic of the oil: Colombian patacones (fried plantains), Spanish keftes de prasa (leek fritters), Israeli sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts). With many of Canada’s Jewish population originating from Eastern Europe, latkes are often served - warm potato fritters topped with an almost unending combination of flavours. Try my latke recipe.
Risalamande for Juleaften (December 24, 2019)
In Denmark, traditional Norse and Christian traditions intertwine, with festivities beginning in late November. While employers and friends host long, relaxed Julefrokost feasts, families sit down on Juleaften (December 24th) to a dinner of roast pork, roast duck, brown sugar potatoes, red cabbage, and lashings of gravy with risalamande for dessert.
Risalamande is a rich rice pudding topped with warmed tart cherry sauce. Before taken to the table, an almond is hidden in the bowl; whoever finds it receives a prize, often a marzipan pig. The pudding is also a favourite food of the Nisse, mischievous creatures who live in the pantry or barn. Leaving them some pudding will ensure, they cause havoc like sour the milk or rot the crops. Try Kristine Mathers' (of The Danish Place) recipe for risalamande.
Christmas Pudding for Christmas (December 25, 2019)
While a lot of us tuck into a turkey dinner with all the trimmings on Christmas Day, many keep the traditions brought with parents or grandparents. Those from Southern Italy partake in the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians will have chicken doro wat (chicken stew) with injera (teff flatbread) following their 40-day fast where they eat only one vegan meal a day. In France, le Réveillon features oysters, caviar, chestnut-stuffed turkey, finishing with the Thirteen Desserts representing Christ and his apostles.
In England, a flaming Christmas pudding often appears at dessert. Traditionally mixed and steamed on Stir-up Sunday (the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent), it cures until Christmas Day. Some include charms in the pudding, to foretell the finder's coming year, Try this recipe for Christmas pudding.
Jollof Rice for Kwanzaa (December 26, 2019-January 1, 2020)
Based on several African harvest festivals, Kwanzaa is a seven-day African-American holiday, honouring African heritage. Every night, the family lights one of the kinara's (candleholder's) candles and discusses one of Kwanzaa's seven principles-unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Celebrations often include songs, dances, poetry, and storytelling.
On the sixth night (December 31st) a Karamu (an African feast) is held. The table is laid with symbolic foods representing the harvest's bounty, an ear of corn for each child still at home, a communal chalice, gifts, and the kinara. What's served differs from family to family and can come from any point of the African diaspora, including the Caribbean, southern US, and West Africa. Try this recipe for Ghanaian jollof.