USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Christmas Eve’
Foodways
Holidays

Seven Fish Dinner

I gathered this piece from my friend who comes from a very Italian family. Her parents family’s are both from Naples, her mom’s side is from Mirabella and her dad’s side is from Benevento. Even though her parents weren’t born in Italy, Italian culture is still very important in their family, and keeping up traditions such as this Christmas Eve dinner are very important to her parents, especially her father.

“I come from a very Italian background. My paternal grandmother was born in Italy and then came here, so my father is first-generation. My mother’s grandparents were from Italy…so they come from a very traditional Italian background. And one tradition that we’ve always followed in my family is that on Christmas Eve you are supposed to have the “Seven Fish Dinner” which means that you should be having seven different types of fish for your Christmas Eve meal. Every year my family would invite all of our family and friends over and my dad would spend about two or three days slaving away in the kitchen to cook all these different things which included lobster, probably cooked multiple ways, clams, shrimp…scungilli salad, which is octopus salad, a type of fish which I am not remembering what it’s called…and other things that I can’t remember.”

Q: So is this something your parents got from their parents?

“Yeah, it’s an Italian tradition. My family is not the only one’s that ever done it or heard of it. I know my dad keeps a lot of his Italian heritage in memory of his grandparents who he spent a lot of time with….’This is what my grandparents did so this how we’re going to do’ kind of a thing”

Food folklore tends to revolve around family and family traditions, and this is no exception. The informant learned about this through participating in a family tradition, which was kept by her parents in order to honor their Italian grandparents. Participating in the tradition becomes a way to keep the tradition alive and maintain the culture.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Annual Christmas Eve Dinner Party

Item:

“So every year, I have really strong memories, when I was young all the way to high school, of our annual, Christmas eve, party that my mom would always throw. It was always her. And we would always have family, friends, and neighbors over and it grew and grew and grew every year until by the time I was older, it would be about 50 or 60 people over at our house. And she had the same menu every year, she’d make the same food. And she, we would always have eggnog, always some kind of meat. It was usually roast beef I think, that she would carve. Uh, hmm, there was always a crab dish, there was always lobster rolls. Not like the kind, in the northeast like in Maine. I can’t really describe, exactly how they were, gosh I’m blanking out now. But um there’d always be a vegetable dip, there’d always be fruit, um and we’d always have dessert, lemon squares, brownies, that was common. So, yeah um it was the same, it was the same people year after year obviously more people came each year but it was the same crowd of people. Everyone dressed up, and I remember one of our neighbors was a doctor and he would bring his accordion over and he would play the accordion every year, it was funny. And unlike me, the more chaos and the more noise, the happier my mom would be, you know that’s not how I am. And I just remember being a little kid, all the kids would hang out together. One of the neighbors, he would, he would always go home and call our house and pretend he was Santa, and he’d say things like “ho ho ho,” and he’d be like “Rudolph be quiet” and stuff like that. And of course as kids we believed that it was Santa Claus, it wasn’t until later that were like ‘oh it’s just him.’ So everybody had someone to hang out with, and, that was pretty much our Christmas eve.”

Context:

The informant that I received this item from is actually my mother, and I had never heard about this tradition before. She grew up in Dallas, Texas.

Analysis:

As far as a Christmas eve tradition, my mother’s family tradition seems normal. Her account of this tradition becomes interesting, however, when looked at in light of the Christmas eve tradition that my family settled in to. Although she remembers her Christmas eve’s fondly, I see in my mother’s account of them a differentiation, a separation between herself and her mom. She mentioned in her account that “unlike me [her], the more chaos and the more noise, the happier my [her] mom would be.” The Christmas eve’s that I grew up with consisted of a nice dinner cooked by my parents that we would eat in the dining room. It was the only time of the year that we would sit down as a family and eat in the dining room; we would normally sit at the table in the kitchen. It was also always just my family, never any of our friends or relatives. That said, I now look at my Christmas eve’s as a vehicle for my mother to express her individuality, personality, and parenting style.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

No meat on Christmas Eve

“We didn’t eat meat on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is fine, but not on Christmas Eve. So we’d eat, like, baccala, which is salted cod. And calamari and other fish and seafood.”

 

My informant is an Italian Catholic. Refraining from meat on Christmas Eve is one of many cultural traditions practiced by this group. There are certain traditional fish dishes prepared, including baccala. My informant told me that she doesn’t particularly like baccala, and neither does the rest of her family. However, they make and eat it every year because it is traditional to do so.

Customs
Game
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Eve Dinner (Danish-American)

The informant describes how his Danish family celebrates Christmas each year in San Francisco.  The informant details the Christmas Eve dinner and a game involving rice pudding and an almond at the end of the meal.  The informant explains that he learned this tradition from his Danish family and has partaken in the tradition every since he was a little kid.  The tradition of the dinner has sentimental value for him because he has done it for so long with his family.

The informant explains that his Danish-American family celebrates Christmas Eve in a distinct fashion.  The family always has a roasted duck for dinner and after eating the duck the family always eats a bowl of rice pudding, but plays a game along with the eating of the pudding.  The family places an almond into a large bowl of pudding and the goal of the game is to pass the bowl of pudding around with each participant taking one scoop of pudding until someone finds the almond.  The participant who finds the almond typically wins a prize.  Traditionally the prize was marzipan, but the informant explains they do not eat that anymore because it does not taste good.  The trick of the game is to do your best to keep it a secret if you have found the almond because you want to make your other family members continue to eat the pudding without them knowing the game is actually over.  The informant explains that he actually added a variation to the game by putting in two almonds into the pudding without letting the others know.

I find the Danish celebration interesting as it varies largely from the celebration in the United States.  There are apparent Danish adaptations to the celebration of Christmas as seen with the roasted duck meal and the rice pudding game with the almond.  I have never heard of either of these practices in traditional U.S. Christmas celebrations.  The games give possible deeper insight into the traditional food eaten within the Danish past and how they play games.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Tamales on Christmas Eve”

            At a tender seven years of age, the informant shared a family tradition of eating tamales on Christmas Eve, which, according to her account, is a shared tradition among most Mexican families. Her mother’s side of the family is Mexican and has practiced the tradition through generations. Indeed, the informant described an annual large family gathering with such an excess of tamales that it feels like “forever” until the leftovers are finished.

            For the informant, it seems the tamales on Christmas Eve is a fun way to spend her vacation―she talks about how delicious the food is, her presents the next day, and the fact that school is on recess.

 

            Every night, uh, I mean before every Christmas night, we go to Nana’s. Actually, we used to go to Nana’s, but then she passed away. But we would go, and lots of people were there and we would make yummy tamales during the night and take them home!

            I don’t make the tamales, I just eat them. I’m not old enough; they don’t let me touch the things in the kitchen yet. Usually it’s just the girls, but sometimes my dad helps, too, and the other people. I don’t know all of them, just some, but there are lots. I didn’t know my family was so big.

            My mama said she did it with Nana when she was a girl, too, and that lots of Mexican families do it. I just know that we make so many tamales, like, so many tamales. Well, there’s rice and beans, too, but even when we bring them home we just keep eating the tamales the next day, and the next day, and the next day. . .it feels like forever. It’s still my favorite dinner though! We eat the tamales, and then the next day we get presents. Plus, there’s no school.

 

            Although some of the finer details may be absent from the informant’s narrative, in sifting through her account we can find some more thematic values embedded in the tradition. Family is clearly an important element in the Mexican Christmas Eve tradition. For one, the women gather together in the kitchen, presumably to “catch up” and bond through the cooking process. The informant mentions how so many family members gather together that she doesn’t even recognize them all. In that vein, her Nana’s recent passing seems to have made a significant impact on her family’s practice of the tradition. The informant did not provide information about where her family would make tamales in the future, but it is quite evident that the familiar setting of her grandmother’s home, a symbol of the stable matriarchy, is no longer accessible to her, further showing how integral family is to this tradition.

            Additionally, the theme of bountiful celebration is quite clear. The family makes so many tamales that guests must take them home, and even then the informant herself must eat tamales for days after Christmas Eve. While the rest of the year she and her family may practice moderation, tamales on Christmas Eve is clearly a happy abandonment of that principle.

Childhood
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Catalan Christmas

“I wanted to tell you about Catalan traditions, which are very different from the rest of Spain and not that well known. When I say Catalan traditions I mean those that originated in Cataluña, in the North of Spain. Um, I mean there are several that I can share because I grew up with them. One of them is, well, I grew up and I didn’t grow up, my family moved to Germany to work, but they made a point of telling us things from Cataluna when we were in Spain. So I was living them, but outside of Cataluna, I was living them in Germany. The first of them, which was very unique and weird to a certain extent, happens in the night of the 24th, so you have to think in the context of Santa. So kids, um, bring home, um, strange creatures made of wood, with four wooden legs, and then it has, you know, decorated with a red barentina, which is a red baret, and you bring that piece of wood in, and you generally put it next to a fire or next to a Christmas tree these days, and you cover it with a blanket so it’s comfortable and warm, and you feed it every morning. So the kids usually put some fruits or vegetables or candies, and they magically disappear during the day, so you’re kind of feeding that little creature. And then the night of the 24th, everyone gets together around it, and you know parents have to make sure that something is put underneath the blanket so it looks like it’s getting fatter and stronger as its eating. And the weird weird tradition is that you get a stick and the kids hit the little creature with the stick and you sing a little song in Catalan, and literally the pig “shits” the presents. So traditionally, it was more candies and little books, this day is a lot of parents are using it as Santa so kids are getting bigger and bigger presents and, then it depends on families, some families do it all at once, so the kids go to the kitchen and wet the stick and then they go back and they hit the piggy and all the presents come out at once, some families do it kid by kid, so as the kid gets the stick wet the parents make sure that underneath the blanket comes the present that is assigned for that kid, but it’s a very strange tradition in how it is delivered.”

Informant Analysis: “One thing that’s interesting about it too is that I grew up with it in my family because my dad is from Cataluna, my mom is not, but we did it in my dad’s side of the family, and I thought it was the normal thing in Spain, so when I was ten and I returned to Spain, I moved to Northern Spain and I talked about this and people looked at me as if I was crazy, you know, because they don’t do it over there and during Franco’s time during the dictatorship it was forbidden, so many kids of my generation grew up during Franco’s time and were not allowed to do that unless they were doing it in hiding at home, so for me something that was very normal was not necessarily for everyone.”

Analysis: I think this is a fun way to include the children in the present giving process, because they are “feeding” the small animal that they create, so they have a part in it. Usually the parents are the ones buying and giving the presents, so this way its more of a group effort. This ritual was obviously important to the informant because it helped her hold on to her Catalan heritage even when she wasn’t physically there.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve

Informant: “On Christmas eve children are not allowed to enter the room where the Christmas tree is going to be in, until given permission by their parents. Children are told that Baby Jesus brought the tree and the gifts for them. Though, sometimes it is just the gifts that Baby Jesus is responsible for”

 

The informant is a first generation American who was born in Danbury, Connecticut. She is a middle aged woman with two older children. Her father was born in Oriente, Cuba and her mother was born in Mór, Hungary. The informant did not believe in this baby Jesus lore herself, but heard about this belief from her mother. Her mother told the informant and her sisters of this lore when they were young children approximately six or seven years of age.

Although the Baby Jesus tradition was not actively practiced in the informant’s family, it was actively practiced and believed in her mother’s family when her mother was a child. The informant said that her mother and her family “would go to church and when they got back Baby Jesus would have magically decorated the room and brought gifts.”

The informant and her sisters found the lore to be amusing, and they would sometimes say to things to each other such as “Baby Jesus wouldn’t like that” to jest about the idea of Baby Jesus. She also liked the idea of Baby Jesus because it was different from her cultural experience and “sparked the imagination.” Furthermore, the informant felt that the idea of Baby Jesus really cemented the concept of Christianity during Christmas because belief in Baby Jesus took the focus away from figures like Santa Claus and reemphasized the “real point of the holiday of Jesus’s birth.”

I agree with the informant that this lore effectively brings Christ back into the focus of Christmas because now Baby Jesus is responsible for the Christmas tree and the gifts rather than a character like Santa Claus. As an Episcopalian, I am not a very devoutly religious Christian, but my family and I do go to church on Christmas Eve. Oftentimes, the pastor will spend some time to discuss how people (in reference to other Christians) can forget the reason behind the celebration of Christmas, that it is ultimately the day of Jesus’s birth, rather than just a day of gift-giving and festivities. It seems some Christians consider overlooking the importance of Jesus on Christmas a very serious problem, and methods like this can help alleviate this perceived problem.

Foodways
Material

Swedish Lutefisk Recipe

The informant is 77 years old. She was born in Minnesota, and is of Swedish and Finnish descent.

Over Easter Brunch, my informant supplied me with some traditional Swedish folklore. The first thing that came to her mind was a recipe for Lutefisk that her family used to make. This is what she told me about the traditional Swedish recipe:

“Lutefisk is an old Swedish fish dish. It’s cod preserved in lye. I think my mother used to soak it in milk, or actually probably water. The only time she would make it was Christmas Eve. I used to help a little bit, but I think I mostly got in the way. It was actually really disgusting. No one liked it, not even my mother who spent the time making it every year! I don’t know why we kept making it for so long, but it was a traditional thing that made us feel more connected to our roots. After leaving the old country, it was nice for my parents to have a little something traditional, even if no one really enjoyed it!”

I agree with my informant’s reasoning about why the tradition continued. If no one actually enjoyed eating the lutefisk, then it was most likely made as a way to stay in touch with the family’s Swedish heritage after moving to America.

Recipe:

1 piece dried lutefisk, sawed into 6 lengths

2 tablespoons lye

Prep: Soak the fish in water for 3 days. Add two Tbsp. lye into a gallon of water. Soak for 3 days in this solution. Then soak for 4 days in water, changing water every day.

Cooking: Tie the fish loosely in a square of cheese cloth. Drop in a large enamel pot of boiling water. Cook 10 minutes or until well done. Remove cheese cloth put on a platter and debone. Serve with a mustard sauce.

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Munlie Men

After discussing a few traditions on Easter Day, this informant told me about her own holiday tradition that she started with her family. A few years ago, this informant found a recipe to make Munlie bread men in a magazine.  

This is the recipe for making a sweet German bread that is shaped into “little men” which is what Munlie or Mannlein is translated into in German. The informant discovered that these “little men” were a German Christmas Eve custom. Children would decorate this bread into little shapes and leave the bread out for Santa, the German version of cookies and milk.

There is actually also a German Children’s song “Das bucklige Männlein”, which translates to “The Hunchbacked Little Man” and this is why the bread men are twisted into outrageous looking shapes. After finding this recipe, my informant started sharing it with her family and now they make them every Christmas without fail. Every Christmas Eve, they make the bread and then Christmas morning, they shape and eat the bread.

This recipe consists of ingredients like lemon peel, honey and anise seed, which gives it the signature sweet flavor. And then to make a Munlie, there are much more specific directions, which were found with the recipe.

“To shape each munlie, start by cutting 3/4-inch notches on opposite sides of the log about 1 1/2 inches from an end (this marks the shoulders). Twist 1 1/2-inch section over 1 full turn to define the head. If desired, pinch and slightly pull the tip to make a pointed cap. To create arms (step 2), make slighty slanting cuts on opposite sides of the log starting about 3 1/2 inches below shoulders and cutting up about 2 3/4 inches (leave about 1/2 to 1 inch across center for chest). For legs, cut from end opposite head, making a slash through middle of the log and up about half of its length. To animate each little man, pull and twist the arms and legs into active positions, making at least 5 twists in each limb (step 3). Keep the limbs well separated for good definition of activity. Space the prancing munlies about 2 inches apart on the baking pan.”

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1216/is_v173/ai_3538967/

I believe this custom emphasizes the idea of family during a holiday. This is a recipe that allows the children to join in and make the food with their parents and then use their creativity to decorate it after. As with many holidays, Christmas time holds so many unique traditions and just like people make  Gingerbread men and leave cookies and milk out for Santa, this is the German way of celebrating the festivities.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Bayberry Candle

My Mother said that growing up, her mother would always burn a bayberry candle on Christmas Eve for good luck and that they would also burn it on New Years Day for good luck. It would burn the entire day until it the wax ran out.

According to my mother, this tradition comes from England, and then was continued as a New England tradition during colonial times. My mother told me that her mother’s side was English, and had the last name of Trasp, which is where the tradition of burning the candle came from in her family. She was not sure why it was a bayberry candle was burned, however.

My mother said that it wasn’t a tradition to make the candle, they usually just bought it. But the candle comes from the wax scraped off the berries of the bayberry shrub, and the bayberry plant is found in both Europe and North America.

This is interesting because in earlier colonial times the bayberry wax would be collected, perhaps because the animal fat used to make candles was scarce. Now the candles are made from other materials, with the bayberry scent, and burned for the sake of tradition.

The interesting thing that I found was that there were many traditional things that my mother did for good luck that came from different regions, and the bayberry candle was just one of them. There were multiple traditions around the holidays and my mother said they did them all, from burning a bayberry candle to a traditional German New Year’s dinner.

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