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Don't Mess With Holiday Meals: Unwritten Rules of the Holiday Table

Barb regularly writes on the topics of food, health and healing.

Unless they're vegetarians they're probably expecting turkey and stuffing.

Unless they're vegetarians they're probably expecting turkey and stuffing.

It Comes Around Every Year

It comes around every year, at least a few times a year. Whenever it's getting close to the holidays, your entire family clan from east to west, north to south and from across the border and wetlands too, begins thinking about getting together for a holiday meal like they do every year. This year it’s just in the next city. You’ve been thinking about this for awhile now and you’re excited. Your plan is to spice it up by bringing some multicultural fare to the family table for the holidays, with the reasoning that you could all use some expanding of your culinary horizons. The menu has been restrictive for far too long and it’s time for a change. As soon as you said that, the hackles of every holiday traditionalist on the planet just stood up in defiance. Of course you are unaware of this so you trudge on, right up to the very day you pack your entrees to share in the car to head across town.

You arrive at the celebration with your succulent offerings that you sincerely believe and think are an exciting change from the usual and traditional meal the family eats during the holidays. To your complete surprise, it doesn’t go over well at all. Not only are you surprised, your offering is hardly acknowledged, only picked over as a courtesy. It’s plain that it wasn’t welcome or enjoyed. Not only are you confused, you are a little hurt too. You were only trying to help and add some extra variety to the celebration.

Traditional Western Thanksgiving Menu

People usually expect turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, yams or sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, squash, macaroni and cheese, corn, stuffing, rolls and gravy and a great salad or two.

Don’t Mess With My Food

Here’s what happened. You just violated one of those unwritten and unspoken rules regarding traditional holiday meals; “don’t mess with my food”. Translated, that means don’t change anything on the traditional holiday menu that everyone in the family looks forward to every year. Newfangled foods are especially not welcome unless you can disguise it to look like and taste like what is already expected. And it really is a giant leap to break the rule, with just a hope that your dish will wow everyone so much that they’ll forget about the macaroni and cheese you were supposed to bring and that they really wanted and drove 200 miles to eat. And don’t let it be a little kid that you disappointed. It’s tough to make a comeback from disappointing kids. You definitely don’t want to mess with their food.

Non-traditional Thanksgiving Meals

Don't Mess With The Turkey Exception

Once in a blue moon, an exception to the rule will be thrust upon us or just blow in unannounced. For example, the obsession with deep fried turkey a decade ago. Not even sure which direction it blew in from, but the obsession you might say added to an already present element at our holiday tables; one of judgment and critique. At family gatherings we tend to like to judge the meal, even though we’ve eaten it many times over. So in comes this deep fried turkey and everyone at the table has something to say about it. It will surely be judged. Was the meat dry, was it moist or just right? Should they have cooked it longer or taken it out sooner? Depending on the verdict, it may or may not be permitted at the table in the future. The family table during the holidays is a tough crowd. Don’t take it lightly.

Every holiday tradition and memory  is treasured like Mom's apple or pumpkin pie.

Every holiday tradition and memory is treasured like Mom's apple or pumpkin pie.

Family Traditions

Here’s the breakdown. Life is hard all year long and when the family gets together for a much looked forward to meal, it’s really special. It’s the same thing they’ve loved for years. It’s like a huge dose of comfort food that’s very familiar and it’s safe territory. You don’t expect to be disappointed. Mom’s apple or pumpkin pie will be there. Dad will be in the kitchen when you arrive early in the morning, prepping his amazing mashed potatoes. Your sister whom you have that constant, love-hate relationship with, will even bring her lemon meringue pie that she learned how to make 20 years ago. And there’s your brother, standing there snacking on the turkey neck that Mom always boils ahead of time, just for him.

We've all got our own idiosyncratic expectations about the holiday and our food is usually right up there at the top.

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Traditional Holiday Meals Around The World

Many cultures have their own traditional meals. The meals vary far and wide. They would be highly offended if someone brought in something that wasn’t expected at that special time of year, especially if that person knew better. A newcomer would probably be forgiven and their offering might put be put aside for another day.

Shabbat Dinner - Fall Themed & Kosher Thanksgiving

Traditional Kosher Meals

Even during the Holy Days; at most meals an appetizer previews the main dish on the Jewish table. Matzo Ball Soup fills that spot nicely. Depending on what's in the family garden or at the grocers, a green vegetable on the side with something pickled. A potato Latke (shredded fried patty) often enjoyed with applesauce, roasted chicken, goose or brisket and of course dessert.

Rosh Hashanah Meal Planning

Christmas Dinner Around The World

Traditional Christmas Foods

Classic Main dishes for Your Easter Dinner

We don't all celebrate the same holidays but we all appreciate the annual traditions of enjoying food, family and memories of the past and hopes for the future.

We don't all celebrate the same holidays but we all appreciate the annual traditions of enjoying food, family and memories of the past and hopes for the future.

Meals, Memories & Emotions

There are a lot of feelings tied up in these holiday meal traditions. They are so full of raw emotion, it’s no wonder many traditional dinners are the location of numerous family squabbles and disagreements. But it’s a place where a lot of love happens too. The family clan is catching up from the last family dinner, making important announcements and decisions about the future, or perhaps it’s the unfortunate location to tell everyone about some very bad news. Whatever the conversation and wherever it leads, it happens here at the traditional holiday table. It’s one of the few times the whole family manages to get together in one place. So whatever needs to be talked about, gets talked about here.

One would think that with all of this tremendous mix of emotions, it would open the door for any change in the tradition. But one is playing with very sensitive emotions here. Traditional meals may be frayed with occasional drama from time to time, but the drama is proudly owned by the family. It’s an important part of the family’s history and connection to each other. And you’ll hear a resounding,’ mind your own business’ from any number of family members willing and anxious to give you a piece of their minds. So I suggest you listen. If you want to spice up a meal, spice it up in your own little family, or amongst those who won’t be offended by the gesture and will welcome and applaud your new dish. Not everyone comes apart at the seams at the thought of breaking tradition and creating new ones.

Christmas Recipes and Memories

Are There Any Stories Of Unwritten Holiday Table Rules In Your Family?

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