Holiday EntertainingNew & NowHolidays

Are We in a New Era of Holiday Traditions?

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In an age of ever-expanding, boundary-pushing innovations in food, reliable information is more vital than ever. Keeping in mind the timeless wisdom of previous generations, we're exploring the exciting work by research scientists and entrepreneurs in the field, and have partnered with Organic Valley to bring you stories from the front lines of the food system.

Holiday traditions tend to get passed down from generation to generation—from time-tested dishes and the cocktails swizzled and served, to the antique gravy boat that gets trotted out year after year (and that you swear makes the gravy taste better!). But a new generation of millennial holiday hosts are celebrating differently from their parents and grandparents.

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The new "kids' table."
The new "kids' table." Photo by Skye | From My Dining Table

It makes sense. After all, from waiting longer to get married (or choosing not to wed at all), to embracing the freelance life, millennials—that much written-about generation born at the cusp of the 21st century—tend to do a lot of things differently than previous generations.

The spirit of celebration is the same, but the rules about who sits around the table, and what goes on it, are changing. Here, we explore a few of the top ways today’s generation of tastemakers—including several Food52 staffers!—is doing holidays differently. Take a read, and let us know how you like to celebrate!

Friends are Family

A rising number of millennials are forgoing traveling home for the holidays, and instead gathering for meals and parties with friends. Many still celebrate with their biological families on the holiday itself—Account Executive Jane Katz, in keeping with the traditions of what she calls “NYC-based, Woody Allenesque-Judaism,” says her family “goes to see a movie and then eats Chinese food on Christmas,” while PR Manager Kelsey Burrow says, “I've never missed a Christmas with my family in North Carolina, and my mom, who is in her 60s has still to this day never missed a Christmas with her parents!” But many millennials also host or attend separate festive dinners with buddies. Friendsgiving, the alternative Thanksgiving meal, is the most widely-cited example—and has even developed its own variations. “One of my good friends hosts a ‘sweatsgiving,’” said Food52 Growth Marketing Coordinator Sophie Corwin. “It’s like friendsgiving, but sweatpants are required.”

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The Ultimate Friendsgiving (with Episode Pairings from "Friends")
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The Ultimate Friendsgiving (with Episode Pairings from "Friends")

The pattern, meanwhile, also holds true for Christmas dinner and Hanukkah parties. Food52 Customer Care Specialist Dell Cherry says he usually spends Christmas Eve “with friends, dipping pretzels and Oreos into chocolate and decorating.” The importance and centrality of traditional holiday dinners with family is not going anyway anytime soon. But by making friends a priority on the holidays, millennials are widening the definition what “family” means.

Creating New Classics

In generations past, people tended to be very protective of their family’s classic holiday recipes. The ham had to be glazed just so, and the mashed potatoes absolutely made with cream cheese instead of butter (or vice versa!).

Caramelized Onion and Butternut Squash Tart

Caramelized Onion and Butternut Squash Tart by Vanessa Larson

Turmeric-Roasted Carrots with Seeds

Turmeric-Roasted Carrots with Seeds by alison roman

But while millennials tend to know a thing or two about nostalgia (anyone want to watch Friends on Netflix again?), they are also more willing to push boundaries and experiment. That extends to the holiday table, where you are likely to find seasonal but less-traditional recipes—a caramelized onion tart, say, or unusually spiced roasted carrots. “The day after Christmas, I always host a waffle bar,” said Zoe Paknad, Food52’s Account Executive. “We drink Prosecco with pomegranate arils in it, I make some waffles, and we go crazy creating all these combos.”

Gluten-Free, Paleo, and Plant-Based FTW

These days, hosting someone who follows a specific diet—be it for ethical, religious, or health reasons—is commonplace across most holiday dinners. But some folks (particularly those in the millennial set) have fully embraced the trend, hosting a meal that celebrates a particular alternative cuisine. So at the center of a vegetarian Christmas table one might find a gloriously bronzed whole roasted head of cauliflower, a stuffed pumpkin, or a mushroom Wellington rather than a ham or goose. And at a paleo-friendly Hanukkah party, latkes made from butternut squash or carrots instead of white potatoes might take center stage. Neysha Vázquez, Seasonal Customer Care Specialist at Food52, recreates traditional Puerto Rican recipes like arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) and tembleque (coconut pudding) for the holidays—but vegan. And Account Manager Kaitlyn Baker, who eats a paleo and grain-free diet to manage allergies, loves sweets, so “I always try to make something new each year,” she says, “Whether a pumpkin bar (made with coconut flour and maple syrup) or a spice bundt cake with a coconut cream glaze.”

Alon Shaya's Whole Roasted Cauliflower and Whipped Goat Cheese

Alon Shaya's Whole Roasted Cauliflower and Whipped Goat C... by Genius Recipes

No-Bake Pumpkin Pie Bars

No-Bake Pumpkin Pie Bars by Alison Marras {Food by Mars}

Skip the Cooking, Altogether

Millennials have adopted a clever way to have a sumptuous holiday feast without cooking or clean up: dining out. According to recent research, millennials are increasingly likely to search out the perfect restaurant table—be it at a traditional-style holiday meal, a delicatessen, or a dim sum restaurant—to congregate for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. “After the cookie/pretzel decorating is done, [my friends and I] all go to a diner for midnight/early Christmas breakfast,” Dell Cherry said. Outsourcing the holiday food preparation means one person isn’t burdened with the cost of feeding the entire group. It also allows everyone to focus on the people around the table, without stressing about how the food will turn out.

‘Gramming the Holidays

Social media has, without a doubt, become a central part of the millennial holiday celebration. In the weeks and days before a festive cooking day arrives, people begin trading recipe ideas and cooking tips with their Facebook networks. Meanwhile, with nearly a million posts for #christmasdinner and more than 50,000 for #latkes on Instagram (and counting), holiday hosts have gotten into the spirit of sharing their feasts on social media. While snaps of other peoples’ cozy meals could lead to holiday FOMO, they also help connect family and friends who are not able to be together.

Why We Should Be Cooking Like Our Grandmas
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Why We Should Be Cooking Like Our Grandmas

What new traditions have you incorporated into your holiday celebrations? Let us know in the comments!

In an age of ever-expanding, boundary-pushing innovations in food, reliable information is more vital than ever. Keeping in mind the timeless wisdom of previous generations, we're exploring the exciting work by research scientists and entrepreneurs in the field, and have partnered with Organic Valley to bring you stories from the front lines of the food system.

Tags: millennials, holiday traditions, friendsgiving