By: Meggan Rush
“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” —Chef James Beard
Food is meant to nourish our bodies, but it also nourishes our souls and unites people, families and communities from around the world. This is especially true during the holiday season. Memories and senses come alive as traditional dishes are prepared and shared, often from recipes passed down for generations from loved ones long gone but remembered through the food that is served.
Cultures from around the world celebrate the holiday season for different reasons and in different ways, and food plays a central role in these celebrations and gatherings. From savory main dishes full of unique flavors to sweet desserts and treats that are only made once a year, each culture brings a unique twist to the holiday season.
Mexican tamales are enjoyed year-round but take on a special meaning at Christmas, as they are often prepared as a family and shared. Let’s Eat Healthy Advocate and Management Aide for Healthy Rancho Cucamonga Joanna Marrufo shares why tamales are a cherished culinary holiday tradition. “My favorite time of the year is the holidays because we can celebrate foods that make your heart and your tastebuds happy! Tamales are made and enjoyed as a family. They are a labor of love because of all the steps that go into making and preparing the tamales. In my multicultural family, we make tamales from Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. Whether it's wrapped in banana leaves—like in Guatemala or Costa Rica tamales—or in corn husks, we know that it is a present you love to unwrap!”
Sharing food is a central theme of holiday traditions as seen with the French Buche de Noel. This stunning Christmastime cake, also known as a Yule log, is made from a thin layer of moist sponge cake that is rolled, filled with pasty cream, frosted and decorated with meringue mushrooms to resemble a log found on the forest floor. The cake is often given as a hostess gift and symbolizes bringing a log of wood, the Yule log, to warm the Christmas fire.
Regina DiPlacito, a nutrition champion with our Let’s Eat Healthy Initiative and a 5th grade teacher and Student Council Advisor at Del Paso Manor Elementary, tells how an unexpected invitation to share in an Afghan feast with her students made a lasting impression. “A couple of years ago, my class was eating lunch on a field trip. As I was walking around to check in with the students about their day, I came to a group of boys who were laughing and joking as they ate. When I came a little closer, to my surprise, they were enjoying a huge feast of food from Afghanistan! Each boy had brought a different dish to share, and they were loading up their plates to sample a little bit of everything. When they noticed me, they all cheered and offered me a plate. When I accepted their offer, the joy on their faces was priceless. They were all so proud and excited to share their meal with me. This was such a simple way for me to connect with my students, but it felt like it made a big impact. Eating lunch with those boys is a moment I’ll never forget!”
Beverages also take on a special meaning during the holidays. In the United States, one beverage is synonymous with Christmas: eggnog, with its warm spices and swirl of flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and dairy. We've become accustomed to eggnog during the winter season, particularly around Christmas. The tradition of serving it dates back hundreds of years, starting with roots in Britain. George Washington is even said to have served eggnog during the holidays.
In Peru, spiced hot chocolate is a holiday beverage known throughout the country and often shared as a gift to underserved communities. Churches and businesses take donations to make large quantities to serve alongside panettone, an Italian holiday bread. The bread and hot chocolate come together deliciously as la chocolatada, in the tradition Chocolatada Navidena—a way for all of Peru, no matter the economic status, to celebrate Christmas together.
In Japan, it just wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without eating a steaming plate of stretchy soba noodles at midnight to symbolize good luck and prosperity. The buckwheat noodles are eaten in silence to peacefully let go of the previous year’s troubles in the year ahead.
While culinary holiday traditions may look, feel and taste different, celebrating them with one another is what brings us all together around the globe and we are reminded that all children and families deserve equitable access to healthy, culturally diverse, affordable and enjoyable foods as their human right. All of us at Dairy Council of California wish you a very happy (and delicious) holiday season, near and far.
Communications Manager Meggan brings professional expertise in leading successful communications for media, public relations and marketing programs.
Working together spreads the message of nutrition security and the value of milk and dairy foods in healthy eating patterns across the life span.
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