Why All the Fuss? Christmas Traditions

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Most families adopt Christmas rituals, some intentionally and others by popular demand. They become signals to us to enter into the joy ofΒ  the season, and the holiday would be just a little less wonderful without them.

Steamed persimmon pudding with hard sauce is a requirement at our Christmas Day dinner. The tradition started with store-bought plum pudding, which was a simple way to end a glorious meal.

But one year, a friend of mine offered me a grocery bag of persimmons from her winter garden. The red-orange fruit is shaped like a tomato, and when the fruit is ripe, the jelly-like interior is naturally sweet and delicious to eat with a spopersimmon photoon.

But I had no idea what to do with a bagful of them until I recalled a marvelous persimmon pudding we had eaten in a Napa restaurant years before. We were so smitten with the treat that I asked if the chef would be kind enough to share her recipe. She did, and I still had her handwritten, dashed-off-quickly version.

As I studied the recipe, I realized the ingredients were spelled out well, but the directions were vague and complex, requiring a special mold and “bathing” the pudding in steam for hours. Huh? So I went into research mode and found five other persimmon recipes. I clobbered them all together, steamed theΒ  pudding for several hours and…voila! a dessert that brought raves. And demands that I make it every Christmas.

I blushingly explained that I wasn’t sure if I could replicate the feat. All around the table, family members expressed confidence. Thus persimmon pudding became a by-demand Christmas tradition.

It’s appropriate for tradition in our family to center around food. Everyone loves to cook–and eat. As we sit down to a gourmet meal, silence descends while we all savor the latest revelation of the beauty of taste, fragrance, and appearance. God’s creation continues to amaze us!

So every year I, for the love of my family, hunt for persimmons, which, although grown locally, are quite pricey in the grocery store. This year Wendy mailed me a priority box full of them since she found herself in possession of 80 pounds of the sumptuous fruit!

And each year I play around with the recipe since I can never remember exactly how I prepared it the year before.

So a few days before Christmas, I’ll be steaming my pudding in good ol’ Edwardian-style.

What foods are traditions in your family?

64 Responses

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  1. “Love and joy
    come to you, and to you
    your waffles too…”

    And there are even gluten-free waffle mixes available.

  2. Sarah Thomas says:

    Frosted sugar cookies!

  3. Jeanne T says:

    Somehow, after seeing your many feats in the kitchen on Facebook, I’m not surprised you mastered a persimmon pudding. πŸ™‚

    I tried persimmons once. They turned to powder in my mouth. I think I’m allergic, so I’ve never braved them again. πŸ™‚

    We love peppermint bark with candy canes and a bit of peppermint oil to strengthen the flavor. One of my boys begs for it beginning at Thanksgiving.

  4. Because my mom always cooked for the holidays, recreating some of the special dishes she always made makes me feel closer to her at the holidays, even though she’s no longer here. So for Christmas morning, I make a yummy breakfast casserole and blueberry muffins. πŸ™‚ It doesn’t feel quite like Christmas without it.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Cooking dishes that connect us to a loved one who has passed away is a lovely tradition.
      My grandson made a chocolate pie for Thanksgiving in honor of his Opa; he offered to recreate his masterpiece for Christmas.So we’re rich in desserts this year–in every sense of the word.

  5. At our house, it’s not Christmas (or Thanksgiving) without cornbread dressing, made from the recipe my grandmother used. And within the past ten years or so, we’ve also adopted the Texas custom of having tamales, along with smoked turkey and sliced ham at Christmas. Have you figured out that my family likes to eat?

    • Janet Grant says:

      Your family and mine would do well together. For several years, my husband and I bought tamales for Christmas from a woman who was a master at the craft. When we moved to northern California, that tradition disappeared.

  6. Jenny Leo says:

    At our house we tend to go all merrie-olde-England at Christmas with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and trifle.

  7. Just this morning, the first morning of our homeschool Christmas break, my 10yo was asking if we could make some Christmas treats. We’ll probably dip some pretzels in almond bark later today, but the real tradition is homemade caramels with chocolate chips and finely chopped pecans.

  8. I’ll echo Sarah above–frosted sugar cookies! (Just when I think I can take a shortcut by buying premade cookie dough–our daughter chides, “Mama! You wouldn’t!” and I’m properly chastised.)

    I’d love to tackle a rum cake for a change, but where can I go for just the few tablespoons the recipe calls for? Rum is not something I readily keep in my pantry… maybe one of the other deacon wives would have some… πŸ˜‰

  9. Kirsten Wilson says:

    We always make banana bread at Christmas time, using my great-grandmother’s recipe. And we eat it mid-morning on Christmas day, partway through opening gifts.

  10. Lori says:

    When I was younger, my father would make a cheese lasagna for Christmas. Later he decided to change the menu and go with prime rib instead. Now that my father is deceased, my family still goes with prime rib every year for Christmas.

  11. Ron Estrada says:

    My wife always makes home made cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Just like I like, gooey and slightly underbaked. When I was a kid, dad and I would make popcorn balls every year. I miss that tradition. To this day, I tell dad it just isn’t Christmas without the second degree burns. Andohbytheway…I see no pudding recipe…

  12. My family used to have the tradition of making Spritz cookies for Christmas. My mom involved my sister and me in the process when we were young. Initially, she made and pressed out the dough into different shapes (stars, camels, Christmas trees, etc.). My sister and I contributed by decorating the cookies with colored sugar, chocolate pieces, and those little silver candy balls (I have no idea what they’re called, but they look pretty on the cookies). As my sister and I grew, we were allowed to do more: press out the shapes, change the tips of the cookie press, put the cookies into the oven and take them out. It was a wonderful bonding experience for the three of us. It also gave us some presents to give away as the recipe made six dozen cookies.

    As she grew into an adult, my sister got tired of making cookies, but I continued the tradition into my thirties. However, both of my parents have passed on now, and the tradition, sadly, has ended.

    The past couple of year, my sister has made scones for Christmas, so I’m hoping that will become our new tradition.

    Blessed Advent to everyone!

  13. May I comment on a non-food portion of your post? I love how you mentioned that your family “expressed confidence” in your ability to replicate the tastiness. It’s amazing how the encouragement of others can give us gumption to do what we’d convinced ourselves was impossible. I speak from experience in the writing/waiting season I’m in. Just this morning, I received encouragement to keep going and not give up hope. So appreciative of this blessed nudge.

    Back to the food question. πŸ˜‰ Spritz cookies with loads of sprinkles are a recurring item during the holidays, and cream of broccoli soup on Christmas eve.

  14. I changed the apple pie recipe this past Thanksgiving. Bad idea.

    My kids have a set menu. One must not deviate from that menu, or face cleaning up alone. My husband’s “I’ll just have a little slice of pie” is met with scorn and audible mockery and derision as the cheesecake, chocolate pate (pat-eh), cookies, Turtles, apple pie, and ice cream are presented to groans and, yes, a few tears.
    I sort of have a ‘go big or go home’ mindset when it comes to Christmas dinner, and I’ve never had a complaint. Except the year I skipped the brussel sprouts. Ohhhh, call the police on me, why don’t you? Weird kids.

    One tradition that our whole family keeps is that there will never just be 6 Majors at our table, there must be at least 5 or 6 guests to bang elbows with. The kidsstart asking mid-December who is coming and get on our case if there aren’t enough guests. I wonder where they get that from?.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Brussel sprouts are unlikely to be mentioned by anyone else, Jennifer. (Although I like them!)
      I love that your kids think Christmas should mean lots of folks gathered around the table. That’s a lovely tradition.

      • One year we had 4 South Africans, 2 Australians, 2 Oklahomans and 3 who originated in Nova Scotia. They were mad they didn’t pass the ‘ex-pat’ test.

        Umm, the kids were mad because I did NOT have brussel sprouts. Hence, the weirdness.

  15. For going on three decades my mother has bought tamales from the same family for our Christmas lunch. In the early days, it was kitchen to kitchen with the delicious treats but as time went on, the tamale lady opened a little storefront in a tiny “shotgun style” house. Thirty years later, that little storefront has become the anchor of a family business that spans three generations and three (at last count) very successful restaurants.

    Thank goodness they still offer tamales to go. Mom puts hers in her roaster to keep them warm and serves queso and chips as an accompaniment. That leaves the rest of the Miller family to bring desserts, which are plentiful.

    The best part is that Mom can enjoy her family because lunch is already made. And how’s this for irony? My mother-in-law, a first generation American of Mexican descent, wouldn’t even think of serving anything but turkey and all the trimmings on Christmas.

  16. Baked Potato Soup when the family gathers in my home after the Christmas Eve church service. This is when the little ones open gifts, too … it’s a zoo. A delightful one.

  17. For decades, maybe even a century, my family had a Christmas reunion which always included turkey and plum pudding. Unfortunately a few years ago the cousin who was hosting the event said she couldn’t deal with the umpteen-zillion relatives our family has grown to include and nobody wanted to take it over, so the tradition ended.

  18. Lora Young says:

    Overnight Cinnamon Rolls on Christmas morning. I found the recipe years ago in the newspaper, and my children refuse to allow me to share our “secret family recipe.” (My children, BTW, are 27, 25 and 23 years old.)

  19. Paula says:

    Somehow, as the youngest of 7, I now host Christmas Eve for my side of the family. Our traditions start with a reasonably clean house, everybody brings hors d’eovers, gifts for those under 16 and the adults do the “gift game” and swap stories in person instead of on Facebook. I don’t think we have a specific Christmas food, though πŸ™‚

    What we do have are so many talented artists, especially my young nieces! I’m really looking forward to trading more art and fewer store-bought gifts as the years go on.

  20. It just would not be Christmas without my mushroom-stuffed flank steak. I prepare the steaks (I often make two) and refrigerate them the night before. As soon as the breakfast casserole that cooks overnight comes out of the crock pot, in goes the flank steak. I serve it with scalloped potatoes, pickled beets and a green salad.

    When it comes to Christmas dinner, I’ve learned “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” applies. One year, I decided to do something different and roast a turkey. That turned out to be a disaster, start to finish. So, stuffed flank steak continues as a most-loved tradition on Christmas at our home.

  21. Nancy Meyer says:

    The night before Christmas, you can find me up to my elbows in yeast dough, creating rolls to refrigerate for the next day. Christmas morning, I stuff the bird and put it in the oven as the cinnamon buns come out. Inevitably their tantilizing aroma tickles noses and teases loafers out of bed for breakfast and present-opening. Soon it’s time to take out the turkey and slide the dinner rolls into the oven. Yum!
    My grandmother’s corn pudding, made with Lancaster County Silver Queen homegrown corn is my favorite side dish.
    And this is the best time of year for the sweet, bleached celery of our area.
    Ah, food, glorious food!

  22. Sherry Kyle says:

    On Christmas Eve my mom served hot ham and cheese buns. Over the years I’ve continued the tradition in my family, but this year wanted to make a ham for Christmas day. My husband and I talked about making hot roast beef and cheese sandwiches on Christmas Eve instead. Won’t my kids be surprised? I’ll let you know if it was a good decision or a bad one.

  23. Christmas dinner is complete with my grandmother’s dinners rolls. Holidays and birthdays are the only times that we make them, but they are a special part of our celebrations.

  24. I will trade you Margi’s secret pancake recipe (amazing… just had them for dinner with bacon) for your persimmon recipe, though Margi mentioned we would be getting the far better end of that deal. Offline if you like. πŸ˜€

    Merry Christmas to all the readers of Between the Lines!

    • Janet Grant says:

      Bill, I’d be happy to make the trade. That does require my actually converging all five recipes in writing. Per chance I’ll actually get that done this year. Then the recipe is yours! The incentive of getting Margi’s pancake recipe might be just what I need to tip the task from the “to do” list to the “ta-done” list.

  25. Mary R. P. Schutter says:

    Growing up, we had simple, old fashioned dishes–turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, green beans, and the most delicious potato rolls on the planet. For dessert, there were pumpkin, apple, cherry, and blueberry pies. Most of the food was prepared by my late grandmother’s loving hands. When we learned that the recipe for Grandma’s mouth watering rolls was kept in her head, we finally made her write it down. Alas, our rolls never taste the same as hers did. I guess the problem is not being able to include the most special ingredient of all–Grandma’s love.

  26. Yummy family traditions, Janet! What a delight to read through this blog.

    Tradition from my childhood ~ my mother’s shortbread, butter almond crisp cookies. They have a hint of ground coffee in them. Divine.

    From 38 years of marriage ~ Poppyseed, cream of sherry bundt cake and a quiche Lorraine for Christmas breakfast.

    For twelve years now I’ve had to adjust those recipes to be gluten-free for my daughter. I still bake from scratch because in the early GF days there weren’t any pre-packaged mixes to use.

  27. β€œBeer is made by men, wine by God.”
    ― Martin Luther –

    “Give me a nice glass of 2008 Colombia Crest Merlot”

  28. I feel I’m going to love this week’s posts, Janet. Growing up, the good tradition was French meat stuffing. Both sides of my family are of French Canadian descent, so meat stuffing and meat pies were staples.

    As I started entertaining in my own household, it became a cranberry wassail recipe that I found in one of my Better Homes and Gardens annual holiday cookbooks. Now it’s fudge. I like the dessert category, so I hope we stick with it.