Tag Archives: Christmas food

BUCHE DE NOEL

MAIN PIECE:

Informant: Well at Christmas we’ll always have Buche de Noel… Which is a French dessert. It’s like, “Christmas log…” And it’s like a cake, and it’s like a roll, you know? Where you roll it up? And you decorate it to like resemble a log, and a lot of times it’ll have like marzipan… Like little marzipan mushrooooms, or little like eeeeelves, or something, and there’ll be like powdered sugar to be like snoooooow. And they’re just like super pretty. And we always do that. 

INFORMANTS RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:

Informant: We’re not French, but we always do it. My mom did a year abroad in France, so she’s big on France. We go there a lot. All I know is it’s just like a traditional French dessert to have at Christmas. 

Interviewer: Do you make it or buy it?

Informant: We always buy it. We always do catering for Christmas. Cooking or baking is too much pressure. We wanna be like enjoying ourselves. Like for me, I really love baking, but if there’s a lot of people around, I like hate baking. I’ll be like, “Get out of my space. Like stop it. Like leave.”

REFLECTION:

Buche de Noel began as a tradition because it represented the burning of the Yule log, which is rooted in Pagan rituals. The tradition then evolved from the burning of a log to making and consuming a cake, which has then become cross-culturally adopted, with a German-American family making this French dessert part of their family tradition. This demonstrates how traditions can change over time and become adopted by new people and groups. The informant is attracted to this Christmas cake even without fully understanding its ritual context and history. Instead, she appreciates it for its aesthetic appearance and sweet taste. This is perhaps why, as Elliott Oring writes in Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction, “food traditions are likely to be tenacious and survive when other aspects of culture are transformed or disappear” (35). One does not always have to know a food’s ritual context to appreciate its taste or appearance. Thus, food can be adopted by “outsiders.” Buche de Noel is now a part of the informant’s family tradition, and has taken on its own meaning within the Christmas traditions and rituals of her family––a meaning that is separate from the context and meaning it might have to a French family.

ANNOTATION:

Source cited above: Oring, Elliott. Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction. Utah State University Press, 1986.

Three Kings’ Day

My friend Rudy, who is Mexican-American, shared the following description with me of how their family celebrates Three Kings’ Day:

“Three Kings’ Day is a really big one- that one we celebrated specifically. So that was like, January 6th, it’s the day that the three wise men finally reach Bethlehem with the baby Jesus. And um we- you’re actually not allowed to throw out your Christmas tree, in like, Mexican culture, like until Three Kings’ Day. So you have to keep your tree until then because that’s like, the official like, end of the season. And like, you put your shoes out and you leave food for the camels and then they fill your shoes with like sweets or a toy as a thank you for um, feeding the camels and giving them a rest. And like as a congratulations for being a good child. And so that was um, always important, and then you have a rosca de reyes which is um, a bread shaped like a crown so it’s like, circular bread. And um, there is sugar on it and dried fruits and there’s also tiny baby Jesuses inside it…There’s like multiple babies in roscas sometimes cause people like, like to play with fire. And um, well it’s like, when you get the slice and you get a baby Jesus inside your slice then you are obligated to throw a party on February second. And that’s the uh, day that Jesus is presented to the temple. Um, so you have to throw the party that day. But at that point it’s less about Jesus and more about more partying.”

When I heard Rudy’s description of the rosca de reyes, I recognized it as a variant of the “king cake” eaten in New Orleans on Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras king cakes are also circular and have a tiny plastic baby representing the baby Jesus baked into them. The version of the king cake tradition I learned from my aunt, who lives in New Orleans, says that the person who gets the baby in their slice has to buy the cake the following year. The king cake/rosca is a prime example of folkloric foodways that are present, but variable, across cultures.

Christmas Eve Soup

I asked my friend if she had any holiday traditions. She told me that on Christmas Eve, her mom prepares soup:

Me: Why soup?

Lindsey: My mom’s side of the family is Irish, so I think it’s tradition in Irish culture to have soup on Christmas. Maybe the warmth of the soup is comforting in wintertime? Also, I think soup is an easy meal to have on Christmas when people would rather be focused on their family than on cooking.

Me: What type of soup does she traditionally make?

Lindsey: It’s just a stew of different vegetables and beef. Really light. Really simple.

 

Analysis: Having soup on Christmas Eve is not a tradition I had ever heard of. I think the idea of spending time with one’s loved ones instead of cooking in the kitchen makes sense. It is more important to have Christmas with family and invest in quality time, than having an extravagant meal.