…from one celebration to another…

Zulu ice cream

While inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the winter, part of Africa (Zulu homelands and Zimbabwe, among others) and parts of South America (Peru and Chile) celebrate the overlap of the summer harvest and the pre-Christian rituals of the native people. Fresh greens, squash, young corn, a large variety of fruit and ice cream often accompany roasts. In the smaller towns and villages, this is a communal feast.

Potato pancakes that save

Latkes is the Yiddish word for pancakes. The practice of eating potato pancakes that are fried in shallow oil is from the Polish-Jew tradition. Historically, cheese latkes are more traditional than the potato version. The traditional story concerns a virtuous Jewish widow, Judith, who pretended to seduce an Assyrian general by feeding him “cheesecakes” and lots of wine. He fell asleep and she cut off his head, thus saving her people from this enemy.

Origins of holiday pork

The predominantly Northern European heritage of the Christmas tree, mistletoe, ivy, overindulgence at the dinner table, stringing lights and exchanging gifts are traditions that can be traced back to the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia and other winter solstice rituals. The Saturnalia feast centered on the pork roast. As Roman armies settled into Northern Europe, this tradition spread and was later replaced by ham and turkey in the Christmas celebration in the Americas.

Rice cakes and Tet

Originating in the soft rains of Northern Vietnam, the Vietnamese people began calling the first days of spring Tet (a version of the word “tiet,” meaning festival season). Tet is the time to reunite one’s family, both the living and the dead; Tet renews and strengthens friendships; Tet is the time to revive past experiences in preparing oneself for new experiences to come. Children and grandchildren working and schooling away from home are granted vacation time to return home around the 23rd of the lunar month of December. The Vietnamese family spends half of the lunar month of December preparing for Tet. Incense, firecrackers, new clothing rice cakes and fruit brighten the festival.

Harvesting brotherhood

Baisakhi: The Hindu Solar New Year Day. Baisakhi is of special significance to the Sikhs; on this day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh organized them into the “Khalsa,” brotherhood of man. In Punjab, farmers start harvesting on this day with great fanfare.

Fasting and feasting

Ramadan is the name of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is a 12-month lunar calendar. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is a ritual obligation for Muslims. Muslims traditionally must fast from the first light of dawn (about one and a half hours before sunrise) until sunset during each day of the month of Ramadan. Fasting means a total abstention from food, drink (including water) and sexual relations.

A typical day in Ramadan begins with the family waking before dawn to share a meal and pray the first prayer of the day. Once dawn arrives, all eating and drinking stops. It is important to break the fast on time every day to express appreciation to God for making it permissible to eat and drink once more. After the performance of the fourth prayer of the day, the family usually sits down to share a full meal.

Eid al-Fitr is the name of the feast of the breaking of the fast at the end of Ramadan (this year beginning Dec. 6).

Stuffing of candy and fruit?

In Mexico the Christmas festivities begin nine days before Christmas, representing the period when Mary and Joseph were seeking shelter before the birth of Jesus, through Jan. 6, when the Three Wise Men reached the Christ child and presented him with gifts.

Las Posadas: the best-known manifestation of the Christmas spirit held each night on the nine days between Dec. 16 and Christmas Eve. People carry candles, visit several houses and ask for “posada” (shelter). The adults are given a thick punch, “ponche navideno,” and at the end of the journey, the “pi퀌�ata,” stuffed with candy and fruit, is broken. Christmas itself is usually celebrated on Christmas Eve in Mexico with a midnight mass and a late dinner. Modern influences have introduced the Christmas tree and Santa Claus along with the traditional celebrations.

Gobbler beginnings

Turkey is often regarded as the usual Christmas meal but appeared on the menu only around 1650 after European colonization of North America. It was introduced to Europe by Sebastian Cabot on his return from the New World. The bird got its name after merchants from Turkey made it a popular dish. Prior to this, swan, goose, peacock and boar were associated with the Christmas feast.

Candy cane lore

The shepherds’ crook is the model for the candy cane (although some say that it is the letter J, for Jesus). Legend has it that in 1670, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral handed out sugar sticks among his young singers to keep them quiet during the long ceremonies. In honor of the occasion, he had the candies bent into shepherds’ crooks.

In 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes.

At the turn of the century, the red and white stripes and peppermint flavors became the norm. Legend says the body of the cane is white, representing the life that is pure. The broad red stripe is symbolic of the Lord’s sacrifice for man.

In the 1920s, Bob McCormack began making candy canes as special Christmas treats for his children and townsfolk in Georgia. It was a laborious process and could only be done locally.

Later Bob’s brother-in-law, Gregory Keller, a Catholic priest, invented a machine to automate candy cane production. It transformed Bob’s Candies, Inc. into the largest producer of candy canes in the world.

First fruits of new traditions

Kwanzaa is a relatively new celebration originating in the late 1960s among African-American communities. It was created by a scholar who believed a special celebration for those of African descent was needed to supplement the holiday season in America. Kwanzaa means “first fruits of the harvest” in Swahili. Corn, fresh fruits, barbecued meats, fish stews and honeyed hens set the table.