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Getting the Family Together

Por Lic. Nina Nazor Robles* -

Christmas is a time when we get together with the family, and almost always, the celebrations revolve around food. 

There are different culinary traditions that accompany Christmas dinner, as well as different celebrations that include the foods and drinks of the season. These traditions and celebrations frequently reflect the people's religious or ethnic beliefs.

Some interesting Christmas meal traditions from around the world:

Australia: Christmas is in midsummer and lunch is often a barbecue of prawns, steak and chicken with ice cream or sorbet for desert, often cooked at the beach.

Czech Republic: Traditionally the meal is eaten on Christmas Eve and consists of fish soup, salads, eggs and carp. The number of people at the table must be even or the one without a partner is supposed to be dead by next Christmas. Tricky if you dine alone!

Traditional Christmas dinner will be a casserole of macaroni, rutabaga, carrot and potato, with ham or turkey. A mixed platter of meat and fish is also popular. After the meal it is traditional to have a sauna and then to visit the graves of relatives.

Germany: Roast goose is the favored Christmas meal, accompanied by potatos, cabbage, carrots, parsnips and pickles. The meal is usually eaten on Christmas Eve. Rural southern Germany feasts on game like wild boar and venison.

The Christmas feast may include small auks, (these are seabirds that are a bit like penguins), wrapped in sealskin and buried for months until decomposed. Yum Yum!

Italy: Christmas lunch can run to seven courses including antipasto, a small portion of pasta, roast meat, two salads, and two sweet puddings followed by cheese, fruit, brandy and chocolates. Phew!

The traditional Christmas dinner is rice, gungo peas, chicken, ox tail and curried goat.

Latin America:

Traditionally, turkey is the main course of a Latin American Christmas dinner. Turkey, once called el ave de los ricos(the bird of the rich), is now consumed worldwide as a part of many different festive feasts from Thanksgiving to Easter.

Christmas Dinner is cooked brown peas with bacon sauce, small pies, cabbage and sausage.

The Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve and for coastal regions is traditionally cod, haddock and lutefisk. Inland pork chops, Christmas meatloaf and special sausages are eaten. Farmers leave a bowl of nisse (gruel) in barns on Christmas Eve for the magic gnome who protects their farms.

Portugal: A special Christmas meal is salted dry cod-fish with boiled potatoes eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Christmas food includes cakes, pies and meat dumplings. The mythical Babouschka is enjoying a resurgence following the ban under Communism. She, rather than Santa Claus, brings gifts to Russian children .

South Africa:
Christmas is during the hot summer season but the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings is eaten at Christmas.

A Smorgasbord Christmas meal eaten on Christmas Eve includes a variety of shellfish, pork, cooked and raw herring fish, caviar, cheeses and brown beans.

Huge meat broths are eaten on Christmas Eve after which children await "Father Frost" to bring presents.

United Kingdom: Christmas pudding and mince pies are top grub. The largest Christmas pudding weighed 7,231 pounds (3.28 tons) and was made at Aughton, Lancashire on July 11, 1992. The largest mince pie weighed 2,260 pounds (1.02 tons) and measured 6.1m x 1.5m. It was baked in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire on October 15, 1932. Sadly the pie was destroyed in a German air raid when the pilot of a Stuka dive-bomber mistook it for a train. (Actually, that last bit is untrue - but it could have happened . . .)

Christmas lunch is common. In small town and rural America goose, turkey, a variety of vegetables, squash, and pumpkin pie are traditionally eaten. The USA has such a range of immigrant cultures that just about every type of food is eaten somewhere at Christmas.

It is during this season when we try to reach friends we haven’t been able to see during the year, or relatives that live far away. Any kind of family gathering helps form a bond that otherwise would be lost as a result of our active, and sometimes hectic, lives.

Indeed, according to some mental health experts, the presence and frequent repetition of these rituals around food helps preserve family health. Thus, many of these events have the sole purpose of perpetuating and expressing deep emotions such as love, and emotional stability among family members.
It is necessary to not only encourage these family gatherings during Christmas, but every day, with small rituals that greatly enrich the emotional life of the family. We don’t need special dates or holidays to learn how to share with our family. We can try eating dinner together whenever we can, sharing in the preparation of the meal, setting the table, cleaning the kitchen and talking as we do it, since these are pleasant and creative activities that can be enjoyed with the people we love.

We should avoid making these moments a time for fights and arguments; rather, they should be moments to share not only food, but also the events of the day, and the dreams and hopes of the family members, while trying to leave discussions or problems that need to be solved for another time.

During this holiday season, enjoy the family rituals. If you don't have any, you can create some of your own. Bring back old traditions like singing Christmas carols; cook a Christmas meal together; or participate in the customs of your country of origin, such as the "posadas," a typical tradition in Mexico and other Latin American regions, that celebrates the birth of Jesus every night for nine days before Christmas, with prayers, folk songs, food and piñatas.

Happy Holidays!

*Dietitian from the MyDiet™ Team


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