Throughout hundreds of generations, the Christmas holiday has carried many traditions, from decorating Christmas trees to cooking special holiday foods. Traditions often inspire joy and a sense of belonging. They also help create heartwarming memories for children and adults alike for years to come. Yet it is fascinating to learn the history behind some of the traditions that are so fondly and fervently embraced.
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One such tradition is food. Next to Thanksgiving, Christmas is perhaps the biggest food-producing holiday in America. From candies to casseroles, and from homemade cinnamon rolls to roasted chestnuts, everyone’s palate can be tantalized by the tastes of Christmas. It seems in some homes that the eating begins at the Thanksgiving table and doesn’t stop until after the New Year. Hoards of calories are consumed every Christmas season. And those same calories are the reason for the millions of New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. But until the New Year, American families take full advantage of the overabundance of sweets and treats.
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Nearly everyone has a favorite food or dish at Christmastime. But it’s not too likely that anyone will say that fruitcake is their favorite. Most people wonder who in the world invented fruitcake in the first place. The earliest recipe found came from Ancient Rome, consisting of pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins mixed in barley mash. Fruitcake has certainly come a long way since then. The good news is that there are lots of other favorite holiday foods that have taken the place of the ridiculed candied fruit loaf.
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While turkeys are typically served at Thanksgiving, they also can be served for Christmas dinner as well. But traditionally, ham is the staple of the Christmas meal. Other holiday favorites include green bean casserole, creamed onions, homemade yeast rolls, and Grandma’s famous maple-candied yams.
Whatever the favorite side dish is, don’t be afraid to try new main dishes for Christmas dinner. It’s always fun to start new holiday food traditions that can be passed down to the next generation. Stuffed Cornish game hens, lamb shanks, and Prime rib roasts are all examples of great foods that can fill a home with wonderful holiday smells and smiles. They look beautiful on the dinner table, too.
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Yet the meal would not be complete without dessert. Yule logs, cream puffs, pies, bread puddings, and brandied cakes are all traditional Christmas desserts that also look beautiful. Some non-traditional desserts might include cakes like pineapple upside-down cake, German apple cake, or carrot cake. Again, have fun starting new traditions while maintaining some of the old, tried and true ones.
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The secret to a wonderful holiday meal is not the decorations or the background music. It’s not the food that is served. And it’s not how much time was spent in the kitchen making it all happen. The true secret to a memory-making holiday is heart behind the effort. When someone invites family and friends into their home, they are promoting a time of genuine fellowship and merriment. This kind of spirit of hospitality is what brings people together, even ones who had been estranged for years.
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The goal for every holiday gathering is to create an atmosphere where people can feel welcome and loved. Include place cards at the table that include a favorite quality or memory of each person. Have a time of lifting different family members and friends in prayer. Have a time of showing old family movies or photographs that can remind everyone of the good and bad times they shared together. Tell jokes and silly stories. Pick a favorite song and sing together.
Whatever the tradition looks like, new or old, let it come from a desire to bring joy and unity to loved ones. Everything else, the lights and the food, the Christmas tree and the gifts, will simply add to the holiday festivities.
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