This is a transcription of the informant’s New Year’s Day tradition.
“Every New Year’s Day we always go over to my brother’s house with all the extended family, cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone. He is a really good cook and makes a giant roast pork and sauerkraut meal that we have been doing since we were little. Then New Year’s Day was my mom’s birthday so we’d cut her the first piece and then she’d put a candle in it for her birthday. It was like a fake little pre-birthday celebration with the whole family. She passed away many years ago but we still light the candle and do the whole thing but instead of a birthday wish it’s a wish for the new year for everyone. It’s sweet I think.”
The informant is from a large German-American family.
The informant described this to me when I inquired about her family’s traditions around the holidays.
Pork and Sauerkraut is a very common New Year’s food, especially for those of German heritage. The combination of a birthday wish and luck for the new year appears to go hand in hand. There are certain theories as to why pork is associated with luck for the new year, “In Europe hundreds of years ago, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year. Also, a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground in the forward direction” (Sherrow 28). The symbolism of a pig digging forward is meant to represent forward movement for those that eat the pig in the coming year. The luck of pork and a birthday wish create a hopeful start to the year for this family
Sherrow, Victoria. “EAT FOR LUCK!” Child Life, vol. 86, no. 1, Jan, 2007, pp. 28-29. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy2.usc.edu/docview/216762697?accountid=14749.
Interviewer: “Can you explain the fondue Christmas Eve tradition?”
Informant: “Yep! So, fondue goes way back when to me being a kid… and we did this at Christmas Eve with the Hardy family, and we called it ‘hunkso’ – I’m sure you’ve heard that – ‘hunkso meat’ or a ‘hunkso party’ and… I don’t know, we started the fondue tradition in the 70s and it is something that has carried with us ever since, and now we do cheese and it’s a lot more elaborate.”
The informant has grown up with this tradition as a part of her family since childhood. The piece is important because it is representative of Christmas Eve and family camaraderie during the holiday season.
The informant (my mother) and I discussed the tradition at our home kitchen table, but the tradition itself that she is describing is performed only on Christmas Eve with extended family.
Given that I am an active participant in this tradition, hearing about its origins was very interesting to me because I was able to witness how it has evolved over time. The family no longer calls it ‘hunkso’ for whatever reason (this was actually the first time I had ever heard it referred to by this name, despite what my mother said during the interview) and we have expanded the tradition to include cheese fondue, shrimp, and chicken in addition to the original beef. This is the perfect tradition for a holiday meal because the fondue format forces the meal to progress very slowly since each person can only cook one or two bites of food at a time, meaning the time in between bites is spent enjoying the company of extended family.
Interviewer: “What about the Thanksgiving tradition with pumpkin pie?”
Informant: “So the ingredients in pumpkin pie are largely consistent. Um, most pumpkin pies contain eggs and cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger and salt and pie crust. What you generally do is whisk it all together and bake it. Our family does not bake it at all, we instead use egg whites and all the same ingredients as well as the most important ingredient which is gelatin, which is used to make jello in many recipes. Also, we do not heat it up and it is served cold.”
The recipe for this pumpkin pie has been handed down for generations for use during Thanksgiving. It is important because it is the family’s signature Thanksgiving dish and pays homage to the ancestors who originated the tradition.
The informant (my mother) and I discussed this tradition at our home kitchen table, but the recipe itself is only used during Thanksgiving.
Although normal pumpkin pie is a very common Thanksgiving tradition, this cold gelatinous variant introduces the family’s personal twist on the traditional recipe. Because of this unique identifier, participation in the tradition brings one closer to the heritage of the family and also provides a family bonding activity in the form of cooking the pies the day before Thanksgiving.
My roommate Erik has ties to Sweden through his mother, who grew up there and still spends a lot of time out of the year there. While on the topic of holiday traditions, one that he found worthy of elaborating on was the meal that his mom makes every year at their family’s Christmas.
He told me that “Every year on Christmas my Mom, who’s from Stockholm Sweden, makes us her traditional meal which consists of smoked salmon, meatballs, potatoes, and we drink Julmust which is a traditional soft drink from Sweden— its normally only sold and bought around Christmas in Sweden. Something that my mom does specifically is make her homemade saffron buns that she learned from her mother, they are probably my favorite part of the meal.”
Background Info: This is something that Erik has learned and grown to love from his mother. Erik also sometimes spends Christmas in Sweden and gets a more traditional atmosphere for this meal. Other than that he gets to enjoy this family recipe in San Francisco where he resides.
Context: Me and Erik were talking at lunch when I asked him about any holiday traditions.
Analysis: I do not celebrate Christmas so it was interesting for me to hear more about traditions during meals that this holiday brings in Sweden. The closest comparison I can make again is my traditional meal experience that I have during Hanukkah.
“As kids, my mom would make gnocchi once a month. It was always on the 29th of the month. They were always homemade and extremely labor intensive, so it would take her all day to make them. She had this custom that everyone would sit down that the table, and she would put a dollar under each plate. It was supposed to bring good luck with money, and it could only be done on the 29th of the month, but I have no idea why.”
Background Information and Context:
Unable to explain why the tradition exists, she called her mom to ask. While the phone was ringing, she theorized that it could be a family tradition from their Italian roots. The informant came to America when she was young, but generations of her originally Italian family lived in Argentina. When her mother picked up, she received the simple explanation that it was just something that her mom did, her grandmother did, and in Argentina they still do it. A cursory Google search revealed that the tradition of making Gnocchi on the 29th occurred because people were paid on the 1st of each month and potatoes and flour were all they had to cook with by the end of the month.
Some of our most valued traditions are ones whose origins are unknown to us. Especially when the tradition is introduced as a child, it can become ingrained into our lives for the simple fact that it is fun and brings fond memories. Food is especially good at doing this. As shown by the informant’s mother’s simple explanation, it is not necessary to have or to be able to share a full explanation of a tradition in order to engage in it and share it with others. This tradition is interesting because it shows the multiculturalism of Argentina by incorporating a traditionally Italian food into a monthly Argentine ritual.