The Importance of the Family Holiday Table
Do you have family traditions around the holidays?
My clan gathers a few times in pieces, as I have a split family. On Christmas Eve, my mother historically hosts her entire family (and most of her friends) in a full-tilt, no-holds-barred Italian feast. She only makes from-scratch meatballs once a year, and they’re on the table along with the skapels, ham and pasta that has become traditional for us. It’s also a yearly tradition to distribute and scratch off lottery tickets together as a family. We’re supposed to share if we win big, but no one has yet in my 30+ years.
On the holiday itself, my father’s family comes together with our annual Hanu-Mas celebration, fusing his Christmas with my step-mother’s Hanukah into a multi-cultural explosion of food. It’s certainly not Kosher, but we do have diced Spanish meats and cheeses, matzo ball soup, brisket, mac and cheese and whatever dessert she’s whipped up. There are blue and silver decorations, plus dreidels and Stars of David on their Christmas tree. It’s awesome.
If either of these events doesn’t happen exactly as described, there is pandemonium in the houses. This is especially true of the dining table. One year, my mother opted out of the Eve event, and when another family member put out deli trays, my older siblings revolted and went out for food. Seriously. I didn’t get it at the time and enjoyed my ham and provolone on Kaiser.
As I’ve gotten older, I understand why it mattered so much to them. It’s easy to correlate food with a time of year, or an event, or even a person. Maybe you always go out for seafood with your friend, or you always order pizza the night before Thanksgiving. To my family, the Italian spread the night before Christmas became just as important as the gathering or the gifts. Over the years, we’ve changed things a bit, but the core menu is the same. And it will continue to be if my sister has any say in it.
Savor the tradition if your family’s lucky enough to have them. The younger generation in my family now understands the importance of Mom Mom’s meatballs and I’ve learned the scapelle recipe so I can continue the tradition going forward. My sister picks up the lottery tickets when my uncle can’t. All elements of the routine make the event something to genuinely look forward to.
Make sure to teach the next generation how to prepare your family’s staples. In an age where we’re losing touch with DIY in the kitchen, these recipes make a big difference, as do the stories that go along with them. Have a lovely holiday season, and as always, you got this!