Tasting Holiday Foods From Around The World

Written by Daniel Alvarez and Carrie Nichols

Whether in times of great joy or of sadness, families often gather around the table in celebration. Food has been a linking bond between families throughout history, and this link is never more prevalent than on the holidays.
The smell of a warm dish and the sight of relatives often leads to fond memories of wonderful times. Food is a way of connecting both young and old with a shared love for these special days.

Ms. In Sim, a Woodgrove English teacher of Korean descent, tells of her Chinese New Year celebrations. “We eat mandu-guk, which is rice cake soup with dumplings, which represents the gaining of another year,” she says. Sim believes in the importance of passing these traditions from the elders to the youth. Her family is trying to teach the younger generations the traditions of a country they are now so distant from. “Korean people in the U.S. are doing this more because these second and third generation Korean-American kids are so disconnected from the real land of Korea.”

Nikola Bibic, a Woodgrove alumni, celebrates Slava, a day specific to Serbian Orthodoxy. His family starts the day early by going to church and getting their kolach (a type of traditional bread) blessed. Afterwards, they prepare food and light a candle that burns throughout the day. Later in the evening, more family and friends visit to celebrate their patron saint Sveti Nikola. Like most holidays, it involves a lot of eating. “We usually eat gibanica, a sweet pastry, and sarma, a stuffed cabbage dish. The adults drink slivo, which is basically Serbian moonshine,” Bibic says. This is not a common holiday here in the states, but it’s important for the Bibic family to remember the value of such a rich history.

Often, food is much more than a traditional recipe, but a symbol in its entirety, like religion, age, or even good fortune. Senior Anastasia Niemann uses food to connect to her Russian and French heritage, even on an American holiday such as Thanksgiving. “On Thanksgiving my uncle makes a special flavor of vodka, and it goes around the table to the adults. My grandmother also makes pirozhki, which is a puff pastry filled with ground beef and onions. It’s amazing,” she says.

Food may seem trivial in bonding with family, but in many cultures it is the best way to do so. It’s not necessarily about the food itself, but beyond that, whether it’s for a religious ceremony or some other practice, food is about respecting heritage and traditions.