What's Your Christmas Tradition?

A recent e-mail from "Dionysia," a reader in Adelaide, S. Australia, prompted today's post about Christmas feasting traditions. In her note, she writes:

We usually have a cold Christmas lunch with prawns and interesting salads and my mum's stuffing (It's a Greek recipe, and she bakes them in muffin tins now, and freezes them.) No one that keen here on Christmas pudding, so I do my Strawberry tart and mum does her Greek trifle.

Over in the Southern hemisphere, where swimming is more likely than sledding on Christmas Day, a cooling repast sounds just about right. Alas, climate doesn't determine all menus -- I've been to Christmas lunches in the sunny eastern Caribbean, where the spread includes heat-stoking dishes such as oven-roasted ham, macaroni pie and fried fish -- oh, and lots of rum.

Culinary holiday traditions are as equally imprinted by several other indelible ingredients -- family history, ethnic background, country culture, migration or expatriation, plus what's on hand from local soil and waters.

Burt, who's "not really Swiss" but has made Geneva, Switzerland home,writes:

Here in Geneva, the local Christmas side dish is "gratin de chardons." For "chardons" my French-English dictionary gives "thistles," which is certainly what the things (in a state of nature) look like. But they may be what I
 have seen referred to in English as "cardoons." In any case, I don't know how to cook them, and today even those Genevese who do know the traditional recipe tend to buy them in jars at the supermarket, so as to avoid the 
hassle of getting the untrimmed vegetable, which looks like a small broom into a cookable state.

So here's a not-so-Swiss guy eating cardoons on Christmas because when in...that's what's done.

He also shared a recipe for rillettes de saumon (details below jump), plus how-to instructions for "Karin's saffron bun recipe," a Swedish treat that Burt says "we have been eating throughout Advent."

So you can see there's lots of room for interpretation on what constitutes tradition at the Christmas table. I love how cultures mix and mingle and dishes get passed around the globe, which leads me to my question for the day: What's the tradition in your family on Christmas? Is there one dish that inevitably appears year after year and without which the holiday wouldn't be the same? Wherever you live or from wherever you come, share traditions, recipes and stories from the Christmas table. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, perhaps there's something your family does to pass the time while much of the Western world shuts down for 24 hours.

And on that note, I'm signing off for a few days so I can start some kind of Christmas tradition with Mister Mighty Appetite. I'll resurface in this space on Thursday, Dec. 27. Here's to a safe and delicious holiday!

Burt's Rillettes de Saumon
(KOD note: This recipe has not been tested. I have converted metric amounts into Western measurements as well.)

Writes Burt: "This is not exclusively a Christmas dish, but lots
 of families in French-speaking countries serve it on Christmas.

1/2 pound fresh salmon

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 pound smoked salmon (in a single piece)
1 cup butter, slightly softened (2 sticks)
salt and pepper

Remove the skin from the fresh salmon, and cut the meat into small cubes.
 Poach the cubes in the white wine over very gentle heat. Drain the poached fish. In a skillet, heat the olive oil and add the poached fish, while crumbling (or "flaking") with a fork. Be careful not to let it take color. Remove from pan and set aside.

Cut smoked salmon into small cubes and sauté gently in six tablespoons of the butter, without letting them take color. Remove from heat and allow to cool in the frying pan.

Once cooled, place smoked salmon into a (I've forgotten the
word for the appliance that you use to puree things. My mother-in-law
called in an osterizer, but I think there's another word) food processor.

Adding the remaining butter a little at a time, purée the smoked salmon until it is very smooth. Put the puree into a bowl and into it fold the flaked fresh salmon. Taste, and season as necessary.

Refrigerate for a few hours before serving. Serve with warm toast. Makes four servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 24, 2007; 9:12 AM ET Family , Winter Holidays
Previous: Cookie Cutters Gone Funny | Next: Momentous Crumbs of 2007


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I'm in buffalo, ny and my family is from the south. so it goes without saying that chicken and cornbread dressing is the requirement. of course the 'other' requirements are:

macaronie and cheese
black eyed peas
collard green with jalapenos
corn w/green and red peppers
cranberry sauce
mashed potatoes w/ gravy
never fail cake
sweet potato pie
candied yams

mmmmm mmmm can't wait!!

by the way mom does this even though she's well into her 70's and it still tastes like it did when i was a child!!

Posted by: NALL92 | December 24, 2007 10:12 AM

Alas, my parents are gone, but we always had fresh shrimp, clarified butter, french bread and a big salad for Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas dinner was always something a tad out of the ordinary, like a standing rib roast or cornish hens. However, the cookies and the pies remained the same year to year, and I make these as part of our annual holiday tradition.

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | December 24, 2007 1:38 PM

My family had quite a few Christmas traditions, but very few of them were food related. We'd plan a whole new menu every year. On Christmas Eve, when I was very little, we'd leave cookies, a carrot (for Rudolph), and brandy (too keep Santa warm). They'd be gone in the morning. Of course, Mom and Dad ate them and enjoyed the brandy while they put the presents under the tree. Then they'd sneak into the room and put a loaded stocking at the foot of the bed. This would be filled with snacks - an orange and a handful of candy - and a small toy or two. The idea was to keep the kids busy for an hour or two while Mom and Dad slept! Looking back, I realize how smart they were!

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | December 24, 2007 2:01 PM

Christmas menu has always varied except, for some reason, we always, ALWAYS, for Christmas dinner (and Thanksgiving) had LeSeur petits pois in the silver can. I hate peas, but I always ate those.

If we had turkey for Christmas dinner (and at Thanksgiving, of course), we also can shaped Ocean Spray cranberry sauce.

Posted by: Jean | December 24, 2007 3:14 PM

Christmas morning breakfast at our house has always, always been cinnamon rolls. Mom has bought them from various bakeries over the years, but recently she's started making cinnamon pull-aparts in a bundt pan using frozen, uncooked dinner rolls (you make it the night before and let it rise overnight). Now that I'm married, we spend every other Christmas with my in-laws, I make Mom's recipe here. Otherwise it's just not Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Kim, and thank you so much for all the tastiness and inspiration you give us all year round!

Posted by: Aimily | December 24, 2007 4:02 PM

On Christmas Eve, we'd have chicken and stuffing from a box for dinner at Grandma's house down the road (Grandma wasn't much of a cook). Later, Grandma and Grandpa would come to our house for a light supper of homemade cream of potato soup or oyster stew.

Christmas Day, we'd pile into a car to drive a couple of hours to a cousin's house, where the extended family always gathers to this day. The highlight was always my Aunt Arlene's oyster stuffing. I need that recipe!

Posted by: Montanan in DC | December 24, 2007 7:39 PM

We traditionally try to eat a quick, light supper on Christmas Eve. Quick, because we go to church about 6:30. Light, because we know we are going to pig out at Christmas dinner tomorrow. I've just put my girls to bed with visions of Santa dancing in their heads. Once they are asleep I'll get my presents for them set out and head off to bed myself so Santa can come. My 8 yo has instructed the 6 yo to wake her up when the younger one wakes up, "but not too early. Make sure it is light outside or go check on Mom's clock." After we see what Santa has brought, and open a few presents at home, we head over to my parents' house (about 9 am) for waffles, ambrosia, and then more presents. Dinner will be early afternoon, consisting of Honey-baked ham (I've driven an hour to a HBH store), probably green beans, rolls, not sure what else. I'm sure we'll watch a video. The girls will play with their new toys, the rest of us will read our new books, a nap or two might be taken (by adults), and we'll end up back at home for a late bedtime. We'll get invited over for ham sandwiches one day this week.

Posted by: all here | December 24, 2007 9:43 PM

In my family we always have lots of bread and lasagna. There's usually sald that no one eats as well.

Posted by: Elizabeth | December 27, 2007 3:56 PM

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