Too Many Cooks: Holiday Traditions

November 21, 2014

You'll be hearing from the staff at Food52 in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.

The holidays tend to bring out our weirdest, quirkiest, and best selves. These eccentricities often manifest themselves as seasonal traditions -- elaborate gift-giving rituals, bad Thanksgiving sweater contests, or forced marches through the wilderness on Christmas morning.

Shop the Story

Every year, regardless of whether you're celebrating Channukah, Festivus, or simply enjoying some down time with your nearest and dearest, there's always something that makes it special. This week we got some of our funniest Behind the Scenes answers ever when we asked our staffers: 

What are your holiday traditions?

Does your family open gifts in order from tallest to shortest? Has your family eschewed turkey in favor of cornish game hens? Tell us in the comments!

Charlotte: On Thanksgiving morning my whole family goes and watches (or rides in) the Thanksgiving fox hunt that happens near my house. It’s ridiculous. Just like Downton Abbey, but with more drinking.

Merrill: Our traditions are pretty simple, but this is one of my favorites: On Christmas morning, we all gather in front of the fire to open stockings, but first we load up our plates with panettone, bacon and clementines -- the Christmas breakfast triumvirate.

Erin: My family's holiday traditions mostly concern food (surprise!) and drink. We drink White Russians in the morning, not because we like them (they're actually sort of gross), but because of my family's love of the movie "The Big Lebowski" -- we honor The Dude on special occasions. Sometimes, we have what we call "diet mimosas," which is just Champagne, no orange juice. The toast of choice came from my grandma: "Here's to nothing, I guess!" -- pretty fitting for a 10 AM cocktail. At Christmas, my mom makes each kid their own gingerbread houses, which are decorated in a furious competition (with no rules whatsoever) amidst some pretty serious cocoa drinking. 

More: Make your own hot cocoa mix and enjoy a warm mug of chocolate whenever you wish.

Lindsay-Jean: My in-laws are so into Christmas, it's amazing. They yell at us if we get anywhere near their bedroom in the month of December (lest we see presents). They put some wrapped presents out ahead of time, but when you wake up on Christmas morning, the tree is overflowing (because Santa came of course). We aren't allowed to come downstairs until they ring a little bell (letting us know that Santa's reindeer just flew off). We all have cinnamon rolls for breakfast -- but only after we bring a cinnamon roll over to the crèche with a candle in it and sing happy birthday to Jesus. 

Julie: When we were little, we always put a shoe outside of our rooms the night before St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) and woke up to a treat inside. My grandmother always sends us a card for the holiday, too -- which at one point contained $5, then $1, then nothing, as her grandchild-count continued to grow to twenty-something (I lost count). 

Also, at some point over the holidays, I always help my mom make my great-grandmother's potica recipe (which is closely related to this gubana), which we snack on as we open presents, youngest to oldest. If you need any hint as to where I fall in that order, my stocking still says "baby's first christmas.”

Kristen B.: Everyone (siblings, step-siblings, and their kids) comes over to my dad and stepmom's house in southern Indiana around 4 PM. We eat a delicious meal and then open ALL of the presents (even the "From Santa" ones!). My stepmom gives EVERYONE in the family some kind of cartoon pajamas. We open them in order of youngest to oldest and we're all supposed to wear our new pajamas that night, and the next morning, too. 

Christina: On Thanksgiving morning we flip between the NYC and Detroit parades on the TV to avoid all commercials. My dad makes his Italian sausage frittata that we all happily eat with my grandmother's panettone, toasted and buttered heavily, and half of a grapefruit (always grapefruit). Once the dishes are cleared, turkey prep begins with "Miracle on 34th Street" playing on my mom's 8-inch kitchen TV. After all the guests leave, we crash in our PJs, watch It's a Wonderful Life, and usually fall asleep on the couch, exhausted and over-wined.

Posie: Every year we wake up on Christmas morning, walk past all of the presents under the tree, and take a very long 2 hour (forced) family hike around our farm, in snow or rain or frigid temperatures. When we were little, it felt like terrible torture, but then you come inside all tired and cold and get to sit in front of a fire and eat cinnamon rolls all morning and open presents, so now I think it's the most brilliant tradition. 

Marian: My mom gets us Christmas jammies every year, and I always initially snub them, like "Oh, I hate that pattern" or "Oh, you got the wrong size -- YOU DON'T KNOW ME," but then by the end of the day, and for the rest of the winter, I'm wearing them.

Our Thanksgiving tradition is to eat vegetarian lasagna. My sister hosts us; my mother tries to bring in at least 20 pounds of food that she bought at Costco; I spend the week leading up to Thanksgiving trying to convince her that we don't need three wheels of cheese. I happily eat lasagna and act as sous chef because I am at this point tired of Thanksgiving. I make a pie, and email Erin McDowell at the eleventh hour because I'm worried about my crust, and she sends me a 500-word response 30 seconds later, and then I still set off the fire alarm -- but people eat the pie, and then we sleep, and are happy.

Bryce: In California, we go for the deep-fried turkey. You can read all about it here (that’s my Dad’s article). There’s a schedule posted and about 8 friends and family members come over throughout the day, and deep fry their turkey to take home. We stand around and eat turkey sandwiches and drink beer. It’s usually 75 or 80 degrees. In Maryland, it’s more of a traditional meal, with about 30 guests and lots of dishes, the scheduling and planning of which starts a month out.

More: Everything you need to deep fry your turkey.

Amanda: On Christmas Eve, we sit around the fire and take turns reading aloud, "The Tailor of Gloucester." Kids, adults, everyone takes part, and my brother-in-law is known for doing a drunken sailor interpretation of when the cat says, "Alack!" We save this part for him. On Christmas morning, we gather upstairs and line up from youngest to oldest (8 to 82). Each person puts their right hand on the right shoulder of the person in front of them. And then we march down to the living room chanting:

Belly full of bean soup

...over and over until the presents are within view.

Haley: We do Thanksgiving at our neighbor's house with about 30 people and there are many, many traditions. The most entertaining is the Thanksgiving sweater competition. To participate you need 1) an awesome sweater and 2) a speech to convince everyone why your sweater is the best. The winner gets a coveted bouquet of brussels sprout stalks.

Sarah: This year, my family and I will be having Thanksgiving dinner at PLIMOTH PLANTATION [sic], which REALLY makes me wish we had some longstanding, unbreakable traditions. 

What are your Thanksgiving and holiday traditions? Share with us in the comments below. (We promise not to laugh too hard.)

Your Everything Guide to Thanksgiving
Check It Out
Your Everything Guide to Thanksgiving

Top-notch recipes, expert tips, and more—it's all right this way.

Check It Out

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Karen Gaworecki
    Karen Gaworecki
  • testkitchenette
  • Sewassbe
  • Matt
  • AntoniaJames
Editorial Intern at Food52


Karen G. November 24, 2014
For pretty much all holidays, we may not necessarily have the "Big Dinner" on the "Big Day" - it depends on who will be in town when, and who has to work. I am a night nurse, and this year I am working the night before Thanksgiving as well as the night before Christmas. This means I get a short nap Thanksgiving morning before my husband and I go to my parents' house for lunch (always at 12:30, with people pretty much gone by 4:30 because my parents are dairy farmers and they have to go out to milk cows! Dinners are always at 7:30-8ish, so they can get in from the barn.) Due to people vacationing and work schedules (I'm not the only nurse in the family), we are having two dinners this year - one on the day, and one on Saturday. I'll be sleepy for both. For Christmas, I like to try to go to church the night before, but that's out this year for me. The typical schedule for Christmas is that my parents (and any assembled children and their families) open presents Christmas morning after everyone has helped finish chores, and we all have cinnamon buns. There's no particular order, but we take turns. We never had a big family dinner on Christmas because my half-sister would get dropped off by her mom in the afternoon after being dragged around to all her other grandparents, and she was cranky and miserable. So we have Christmas dinner some other day with my mom's extended family, usually the weekend before or after (yay work schedules!). Sometimes my aunt has a big party/dinner around this time, too. My inlaws do Christmas only on Christmas, with church the night before, then everyone wrapping last minute presents and catching a nap before opening presents, then rotating naps while cooking dinner (it's a bit chaotic) and cleaning off the only table big enough for us all to fit at. Dinner winds up being around 6pm. Oh, I almost forgot - I have one more Christmas in January, with my father's side of the extended family. More travel concerns - it just works better this way, and we enjoy the extended holiday season. :)
testkitchenette November 23, 2014
I am loving reading about everyone's traditions! For me, growing up, we alternated spending Thanksgiving in Ohio with my mother's family. We always went to church on Thanksgiving morning. My dad sometimes went but often he didn't (he's Jewish). We would stay at my grandparent's house (where my mother grew up) and my grandmother always made her yeasted apple cakes and cinnamon orange buns. Thanksgiving was always at my mother's brothers where my aunt cooked a meal that tasted exactly the same as my moms (which is a very good thing). My family (the NYers), tolerated the football watching that my cousins and uncle did and we the kids consumed large quantities of forbidden soda in their basement while playing air hockey, Atari, and ping pong. Dinner was always eaten at a late hour. My grandmother would bake the pies which were served with fresh whipped cream and Graeter's ice cream. NY Thanksgivings were always at my house and involved my dad's brother's family. When my grandmother was alive she always made her twice baked potatoes (which I always make now). There was and still is parade watching and helping my mother with the cooking and in the last 20 some odd years, drinking too, starting with champagne and building to wine and commencing with Frangelico.
Christmas in the Sobel house when we were young involved going to the neighbors and then walking home where my parents pointed to planes in the sky telling us it was Santa and that we had to go to bed (which we did). We were not allowed to open anything in the morning until my parents awoke (we had all awoken at 5 am and then only thing on TV, if it was plugged in, was Davey and Goliath). They would make coffee and then my mother would read the Nativity story that we had to participate in and somewhat act out in putting the figurines in the manger. Then the Christmas record albums were put on and we would sing Christmas carols together. Then we opened presents (that my mother handed out to us each in turn). Our stocking always had (and still do) an orange at the toe and toothpaste and new toothbrushes and socks. Often my Jewish relatives come over for brunch or early lunch depending upon if we've been to mass that day or on Christmas Eve. Breakfast was and is always a combo of bialys, cream cheese, and lox with yeasted cakes and my mother's apricot bars and lemon squares. Then and now my sister and I would help my mother with dinner preparations. When we were younger we would play with our toys/goods. We just hang with each other with classic Christmas movies/History Channel on (my dad with his headphones on). We'd exchange gifts again with my cousins at night after dinner.
I love the holidays more and more with my family. Thank you for asking us to share with each other (which is a gift in itself).
Sewassbe November 22, 2014
I'm Scandinavian-American, so my family tradition (on both sides!) was to open ALL the presents on Christmas Eve. The older kids would always pass out all the presents and then all the kids would open theirs at once. Now that I'm living in NY with my Danish-Irish-Austrian-German in-laws, we open presents on Christmas morning (we open one - ONE! - present on Christmas Eve as a concession to me). We also have lasagna for Christmas dinner, even though no one in the family is Italian, and it's been difficult for me to adjust to not having turkey and Swedish meatballs, but hey, family is family. Another fun in-laws tradition is that the oldest sheltie (Juno), loves to help unwrap presents. I don't know what we're going to do when she dies (she's very old now), because the younger shelties just haven't picked up the trick yet, and it won't be the same without a dog tearing wrapping paper off of presents...
Matt November 22, 2014

AntoniaJames November 21, 2014
Love this! Such great stories. For us: Thanksgiving, we take a long, hard hike on Thanksgiving. The younger boys run up over Mt. Tam and down to Stinson Beach. The older boy (the man I married 30+ crazy years ago) runs to the top and I meet him at the car there (as I have hiked in blissful silence through those beautiful redwoods to that point) and we meet the younger boys at the beach and drive home. I then spend about two hours getting dinner ready while all of the boys nap.

Christmas, we follow a tradition from my childhood: cookies and a carrot put on plate with glass of milk. Before going to bed, I eat the cookies and drink the milk, leave a bunch of crumbs, break off most of the carrot, and write a note from Santa to the boys, thanking them, mentioning how much the reindeer appreciate a little treat on their long journey. The boys always (since the youngest learned about the true nature of Santa) without fail comment on how similar my handwriting is to Santa's. The only difference is that my father used to write the note, not my mother, and my father's handwriting is much neater than mine.
We eat clementines, too. And now that I think about is, last year's Christmas breakfast consisted of panettone (made by me), bacon and clementines! Amazing. ;o)