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Too Many Cooks: Holiday Traditions

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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.

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.)

Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!
Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!

Tags: Holiday, Food52 Life, Holiday Entertaining, Too Many Cooks, Behind The Scenes