I absolutely adore getting to know other families’ quirky holiday traditions, how they came to be, and how they’ve clung to them throughout the years.
Some can be objectively inconsequential, but they stick, because of the little memories trapped inside the motions. Even if the sequels lose the thrill of the original, we find ourselves in a cycle of repetition because we’re chasing that nostalgia high.
For my boyfriend Jeff’s family, a Christmas morning would feel empty without eggs Benedict. It would feel even more strange without his mom accidentally setting off the smoke alarm in the process… yes, the sweet sounds of Christmas. New Year’s Eve at senior editor Arati Menon’s means saving the best bottles of bubbly for the New Year, which she and her parents start drinking "too early," she says, "think 4 p.m. early." They get sleepy after the fourth helping of champagne and pudding (“chocolate blancmange for dad, gulab jamuns for me”), fall asleep well before midnight, and vow the next morning never to do it again...only to do it again.
This year, it’s been especially apparent which traditions within our immediate families have really stuck, and as we wind down into the final days of 2020 spending time with just them, I’m feeling particularly sentimental for the minutiae of tradition. I’m aching, as I’m sure you are, for the familiar—something planned, something to count on.
New Year’s Eve in my family has always been a no-frills affair. It was celebrated in the family room, gathered around the TV, flipping back and forth between Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and whatever other special was on that year. The most exciting part? We all ate hunched over the coffee table—something my mom loosely forbade on all other occasions. I say loosely, because of course she was permitted to eat an evening snack from the family room—just not me.
The menu was reminiscent of a TGI Friday’s (possibly contributing to my affinity for chain restaurants), but in a good way. There were plates of cheesy, bacony potato skins, mini hotdogs of course, and my dad’s most-requested special occasion food: nachos. Ever the host, my mom also made sure to ready a very American mise en place of shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and 3-cheese blend in individual serving bowls.
The entirety of the meal was spent shooing away the dog from the plates, with one person needing to stand guard over the food in the family room at all times. As soon as the nachos went down on the trivet, there he was: pacing, whining… waiting for the perfect opportunity. I mean, we were laying out a buffet at exactly his height, so he was within his right to nag.
Years later, in high school, my friends and I hosted two consecutive New Year’s parties from the same family room. This time, instead of my mom, dad, brother, and I, 15 or so pubescent teens crowded around the coffee table to scarf down Swedish meatballs and Totino's pizza rolls, and engage in an earnest game of charades. The dog continued to be a problem, preying on unsuspecting newcomers and wayward paper plates. But shockingly, this tradition petered out by junior year, because kids started wanting to drink alcohol on New Year’s Eve… a turn of events I’m sure no one saw coming.
Now that I’ve been through quite a few New Year's Eves away from my parents’ house, I’m beyond ready to dial it back to living room tapas on the coffee table. I did the all-inclusive tickets to a club thing (so overrated), went bar-hopping with friends, did a low-key dinner-turned-rager, and escaped to Canada one year, so I’m comfortable admitting that I might never want to go out for New Year’s Eve again.
I suppose this is just a long-winded way of saying: holidays don’t need sweeping gestures or elbow-to-elbow gatherings. Sometimes the simplest traditions—like eating nachos at the coffee table with your parents—can be the best ones.
What simple traditions do you and your family cherish? Tell us below!
Food52's Automagic Holiday Menu Maker
Food52's Automagic Holiday Menu Maker
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