|Home » Coverstory
By Cindy Ferraino
A traditional American holiday celebration usually consists of watching parades and football games while you are waiting for the table to be filled with delicious foods that you smelled cooking all day long. No Thanksgiving is complete without you and cousin Bob fighting over the last piece of pumpkin pie. Your mother promises every year that she will make a pie for you but you secretly think she looks forward to seeing the yearly wrestling match over a tasty piece of pumpkin pie.
Everyone in America enjoys having off from school, work or a break from everyday life on the 4th Thursday in November and working off the huge meal you consumed to beat the crowds at the Early Black Friday sales to get a jump on the holiday shopping. However, there are some cultures that celebrate the upcoming holiday season in a different way. Many cultures celebrate the joy of a bountiful harvest that mirrors the true meaning of the first Thanksgiving that took place so many years ago in a cold Massachusetts town. However, Christmas and other holiday celebrations have also been influenced by the diverse traditions of various cultures…
The Pilgrims and Indians were celebrating the gathering of friends around the table and thankful for their survival during a rough time in New England. Most cultures have infused their holiday traditions into praising for the gifts of goodness and friendship. When the Mexican population continued to steadily increase in California, a taste of Mexican culture was woven into the communities. Mixed with a dose of Indian and Roman Catholic traditions, Mexican Americans invite friends and families to celebrate two important holidays in November and December. On the first of November, the "El Dia de Muertos" honors the "Day of the Dead." Christians and Roman Catholics call this the "Feast of All Souls." People wear wooden masks called "calacas." They visit the cemeteries where their family and friends are buried. After visiting the dead, people of these cultures sink their teeth into a menu of delicious foods. Mole is a sauce made of onions, tomatoes, nuts, seeds, and tiny bits of chocolate. This smooth texture is mixed with turkey or chicken. The story behind the mole is quite interesting.
Fifteenth century priest Fray Pascual was putting together a turkey dinner to honor a new governor. As legend has it, a blustery force of wind caused the spices and chocolate to fall into the pot of turkey. Hence, the first mole was created. The finish to great meal is a sugary treat. The "pan de muerto" or "bread of the dead" is shared amongst family and friends. The bread is fashioned in a round skull shaped bread dough with strips of dough representing bones.
In December, Mexican Americans celebrate another holiday steeped in Indian and Roman Catholic tradition. The 12th of December marks the feast of the "El Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe(the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe). Tales of a dark-skinned Virgin Mary appeared in Guadalupe and now she is the patron saint of Mexico. The home may have a special place like an altar called an "altarcitos" to worship the Virgin Mary. Many altarcitos are the focal point in homes of those who believe in this tradition. They serve as a place to gather for prayer or family togetherness.
Another Mexican delicious creation that is popular during the holidays is tamales. Tamales are handmade corn or banana husks filled with spicy or sweet eats. For the spicy craving taste buds, corn husks are crafted into little packages filled with beef, chicken, pork and new favorites-fish and shrimp. For the sweet tasting palate, banana leaves are stuffed with pumpkin and fruit. The process is very time consuming but the end product is definitely worth it. Tamale makers gather together as a "tamalda" or translated to "a tamale making party." Tamales are given as edible gifts for the holiday season. To wash down delicious tamales, Mexican Americans have atole. Atole is made with corn base and mixed with milk, water, sugar, and masa. Atole and cinnamon cookies go wonderful together. To ring in the New Year, you can feast on a dish of pork and hominy stew called Pozole. This pork and cornhusk stew has been a traditional Mexican New Year's dish for many years.
Californians with a Jewish heritage bring the community together during the holiday months with special traditions. To be thankful for what the joyous season of autumn has brought, Jewish families, and the communities celebrate Sukkot, (a traditional 7 day holiday). Sukkot makes Jews mindful of how to respect the Earth for all its goodness. Traditional celebrations involve the festival of Booths. During ancient times, travelers stayed in booths while attending the festival. Seasonal fruits and vegetables and holishkes (cabbage rolls) adorn the table. Holishkes are reminiscent of a bountiful cornucopia. Sweet
treats include pumpkin soup and baked stuff apples. The month of December brings on the celebration of Hanukah . Hanukah is a celebration of how one day is worth of lamp oil endured for 8 days. Jewish families and communities are thankful to be part of the historical tradition and reflect how to cherish and share the gifts they already possess. Kitchens are filled with tasty potato latkes, savory cheese sofganiyot and raspberry ponchik, (fried doughnuts).
Chinese , Japanese and Korean Americans who call Southern California their home celebrate the meaning of a bountiful harvest during different times of the year. Holiday celebrations invite many people to participate in their traditions. In August, there is a celebration of the Moon Festival (also called the Mid-Autumn Festival). This festival celebrates the summer's bountiful harvest. This festival symbolizes the meaning of togetherness and sharing the gifts of the Earth. The traditional food is the mooncake filled with a flaky filling. Chinese Americans ring in the New Year with a sweet cake filled with red dates. The lunar Chinese year comes at a different time.
Californians with a Korean heritage celebrate the harvest festival of Chuseok. This is a major three-day holiday in August. Korean families pay homage to the spirits of the towns for the bountiful summer harvest. Traditional Korean food made with dishes featuring rice and fruits celebrate the meaning of the harvest festivalrespect for the gifts from the earth. Korean Christmas celebrations are loosely based on those of a traditional American Christmas. Christmas pageants highlight the faithfulness of the spirit of Christmas and caroling is popular way to ring in the holiday season. Korean foods are the main part of a Christmas celebration. Rice-cake soup(ddeok guk) barbecued beef, and gimchi, (cabbage rolls) are part of the holiday feast including fruits and sweets. The Korean New Year "Seollal" follows the winter solstice calendar. Children play traditional Korean games and are given rice cakes and fruits as rewards for their kind gestures towards their parents.
Japanese Americans celebrations have been influenced by Christian culture. The holiday focuses on the birth of Jesus and the nativity scene is an integral part of the home. Christmas gifts are brought to children by a Japanese priest god named Hoteiosho. A sponge cake made with strawberries highlights the Christmas dinner table. New Year's Day is celebrated with visitors stopping by to wish everyone a healthy new year. Beans are thrown around the house to ward off evil spirits. African Americans celebrate Thanksgiving like a traditional American holiday with a dash of flavors from Africa and beyond. The table is filled with a turkey surrounded by collard greens, African spices for sampling, potatoes, fruits and vegetables and one delicious pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie for dessert. African Americans celebrate two holiday traditions during December-Christmas and Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa starts after Christmas day and runs from December 26 to New Year's Day.
Started in 1966 by Dr. Maulana "Ron" Karenga, Kwanzaa is a 7-day festival to celebrate the historical ending of the harvest year. Kwanzaa is derived from a Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza," which means "first fruits of the harvest." Each day of Kwanzaa is marked by a traditional principle of the Nguzo Saba and fruits, candles, vegetables, and cloths represent what the true meaning of Kwanzaa is: unity, community, faith, creativity, self-determination, and a sense of purpose. Many African Americans feel this celebration affects everyone because we are striving to make this world a better place for our children, ourselves and our future children.
The blending of holiday traditions from different cultures springs forth the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the community. Mexican holiday traditions can teach us about how people celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us and to get a gift of those wonderful tasty tamales is truly a holiday treat
Jewish holiday traditions will enlighten us about how a struggle led to many days of peace and harmony and those wonderful foods are treats for anyone to eat. Chinese, Japanese and Korean holiday traditions give us the opportunity to learn about the importance of paying respect to the gifts we receive from the Earth and the foods will delight anyone. African traditions weave pieces of American culture to form a special way to celebrate the holiday season and sharing in the bounty of foods that nourish us through mind, body and soul.
For many people, the arrival of the holiday season causes a flurry of whirlwind of activities. From holiday shopping to planning a dinner for your family and their extended guests, we begin to stress about the littlest things and forget about the why we celebrate the holidays. Some people may be worried if they will be able to provide for their families during the holiday season and even in the months to come. We become anxious and can't wait for the holiday seasonto be long gone.
If we take a look back at why people started celebrations in the first place, the answer seems pretty simple. These people were not worried about if they got the best deal on the 52-inch plasma or why their kid was not picked for the lead role in the pageant. They did not care if their brother will not sit next to your sister because of the big family feud or someone took the parking spot they had waited 20 minutes for. Instead, they gathered with family and friends to give thanks for the things that they had at that very moment and to remember those who are no longer with them to share in their good fortune. These people relished in a reason to be happy. They dined on wonderful food, wore traditional clothing and danced to music to celebrate.
Right now, many people may have a hard time thinking about a happy holiday while others are struggling to find jobs, taking care of sick children or loved ones, and even worrie about losing their homes. This should be time where we should get back to thinking as to why we still need a reason to celebrate and live. Take part in helping someone to get back on their feet. Plant gardens for inner city communities that can use the food to put on their tables.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen or senior center. Donate items that are collecting dust in our homes, attics and garages. Teach our children about the importance of family and why we celebrate our own heritage. Cultural differences may influence how people celebrate holiday traditions but the meaning behind why these celebrations are so important is universal-to bring people together to appreciate what life has given us and how we can share our gifts and our talents with the rest of the world. Everyone has the same opportunity to bring a piece of our own heritage to a holiday celebration and to be open to learning about how someone has a different tradition that is unlike our own.
Whether we came to the place we are in by plane, train, and boat or from the halls of the local hospitals, we all are part of what it means to celebrate the holiday season with family, friends and our communities.
back to top