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Holiday Traditions

by Maxine Glass

Holiday traditions have always been something I've looked forward to. When I was a kid, holidays meant playing with my cousins, eating Grandma's cookies and sometimes getting presents - who wouldn't be excited? But as I've gotten older, holidays have come to mean something more. While I still look forward to seeing cousins and relatives, eating Grandma's cookies and the occasional presents (which have gotten fewer over the years...) I have also come to value those little traditions I took for granted. For example, since my oldest cousin could read (and she is now 24), my cousins and I have put on an original Thanksgiving play. My favorite was the one where Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fell during the same week and our play consisted of the Pilgrims and the Maccabees building a menorah out of turkey bones at the Thanksgiving table. No one could say we weren't creative.

Whatever your holiday traditions are, they no doubt instill a sense of familiarity and comfort that you strive to recreate year after year. They also, more likely than not, include an extravagant meal. While every family celebrates holidays slightly different, this small collection of traditions will hopefully strike a reminiscent chord or spark a new idea for your own family. As you read on, look for special holiday recipes that may become your next holiday traditions. 

This classic all-American holiday has been commercialized almost as much as Christmas, but that doesn't mean the age-old traditions don't still exist.

* Turkey - However you slice it, this is a staple at most Thanksgiving tables. It contains that famed amino acid tryptophan that has been rumored to induce sleepiness and is often blamed as the culprit for those post-dinner "naps." Many families have even begun to serve Tofurkey, which is a soy-based product seasoned and roasted to look and taste like a turkey for the non-meat-eaters.

* Over-eating - For some reason, this has become a tradition in and of itself. Probably because there is such a vast array of home-cooked specialties that are hard to pass up, most people end up stuffing themselves silly. But with stuffing , yams , mashed potatoes and pies , who can resist? Click here for more special Thanksgiving recipes.

* Parades - the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is now a full-fledged American tradition. Beginning in 1924, the parade now features extravagant floats and enormous balloons that stroll down the streets of New York City. And capping off the parade with a wave and a "Ho, ho, ho" is Santa Claus, urging kids to believe and parents to go shop.

* Prayers and Thanks - For some families, Thanksgiving is a religious time to attend church and give thanks for the blessings in their lives. But even those who are not religious may take this opportunity to share their thanks. Many families go around the table and say what they are thankful for. It is also a nice time to read a poem or quote that is especially meaningful and pertinent.

* Football - In most families, there is usually at least a small contingency who insists on watch the game in lieu of participating in anything else. Because it's usually an important game, it's pretty hard to pry these dedicated fans from the TV. Additionally, some families play annual football games with other families and friends to rouse some friendly competition before the big feast.

* Volunteering - While giving thanks for blessings in their own lives, many people like to give to others who are not as fortunate. Some volunteer at soup kitchens, organize clothing drives in preparation of the cold winter months, or volunteer their time at other organizations. This is a wonderful thing to do with children and a tradition that can mean a great deal.

One of the most important holidays of the year for many people, this holiday has become a worldwide commercial explosion. With advertisements circulating even before Thanksgiving, it is sometimes hard to focus on what Christmas really means to so many people, which is why family traditions are important.

* Decorations - Whether you celebrate this holiday or not, Christmas and the winter season have become synonymous. When lights are elaborately strung from trees, branches, bushes and awnings, they illuminate neighborhoods with holiday cheer. Within the house, family traditions vary, but in most houses a tree is prominently displayed in a front window where wrapped presents lay underneath. Many families have ornaments that have been in their family for decades and rediscovering them every year is beloved by everyone.

* Midnight Mass - Even if they are not especially religious, many families attend this special service to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. For religious families, this is a unique way to instill the spiritual importance of the holiday amidst the commercial hubbub.

* Presents - Traditionally, children run to the tree first thing Christmas morning to find the presents that Santa has miraculously left during the night. Some families allow one present to be opened the on Christmas Eve.

* Food - Christmas dinner has a reputation for being extravagant and joyous. Many families serve turkey, goose or ham with cranberry sauce , plum pudding and pies. Fruit cake is also a traditional holiday item, but has gotten a bad wrap for its dense texture. Check out Recipe4Living's Christmas recipes for more great ideas to feed your festive family.

* Mistletoe - This tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is said to date back to Norse mythology in which the god Badur was brought back to life when his mother's tears washed away the plant's poison. In the myth, the mother was so happy, she kissed every person who passed under the plant, which why it is hung during Christmas - a time of joy and celebration.

* Carols - Every family has their favorite Christmas carols that they sing every year. Whether you go door-to-door singing for charity or just gather 'round a piano at home, these yuletide songs are an unforgettable part of the holiday season.

This Jewish holiday is often referred to as the "Miracle of Lights" because a small drop of oil lasted a miraculous eight days in the menorah. Although it often falls during the same time as Christmas, it is not the "Jewish version," and has its own unique history.

* Lighting the Menorah - The menorah is a candelabra with nine candle-holders - one for each night and an extra called a shamash, which is used to light the candles. Each night, the blessings are said over the candles and they are lit from right to left, corresponding to the night.

* Dreidels (Sivivon) - These are small, four-sided spinning tops that have a Hebrew letter on each side. The letters stand for the phrase, "A Great Miracle Happened There," (or in Israel, "A Great Miracle Happened Here"), referring to the oil lasting for eight nights. The dreidel is used to play a game in which the dreidel is spun and, depending on which letter it lands on, the player gets to take all, half or none or the winnings. It is usually played with pennies or candy.

* Latkes and Sufganiyot - Having a Hanukkah meal without these favorites would cause quite an uproar. Latkes are potato pancakes fried in oil and are often served with applesauce and sour cream. For a modern twist, some families make sweet potatoe latkes instead. Sufganiyot are jelly doughnuts, without the hole, that are covered in powdered sugar or cinnamon and are especially popular in Israel.

* Presents - Although the tradition of exchanging presents has evolved with the increasingly American presence of Christmas, it has nonetheless become an important tradition for Hanukkah as well. In many families, children are given a small gift each night after lighting the candles.

This lesser-known holiday is gaining recognitions in school systems and throughout the country, which celebrates African American heritage and history. Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, rather than a religious one, which is designed to be celebrated in conjunction with other religious holidays.

* History - Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 to restore the African American community and instill a pride in their heritage. The word Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase meaning "first fruits of the harvest."

* Principles - There are seven principles of Kwanzaa, which correspond to the seven days that the holidays spans. These principles are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

* Karumu - The seven days of Kwanzaa are spent leading up to the final celebratory meal, called Karumu. During this meal, there are decorations of red, green and black, as well as many symbolic items, including: a straw placemat, candles and holder, an ear of corn for each child in the household, a variety of fruit, a unity cup and gifts. The menu options for this meal are endless, but try the Caribbean-inspired Crispy Peanut-Coconut Chicken or the colorfully festive Kwanzaa Salad.

* Gifts - This is primarily a tradition for children and must always be given with a book, to emphasize learning and a heritage symbol, to reinforce the African commitment to their culture. 

Copyright 2006 Ampere Media LLC

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