Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Favorite Foods of Christmas

 Favorite foods enjoyed by Americans for any given holiday, season or special occasion will likely include some ethnic dish, given the many ethnic groups that reside in the country. Despite this variety of melting pot cuisine, there are some similarities in dishes that will be a part of most meals during celebrations such as Christmas.

Christmas in the United States comes almost one month after another big holiday, Thanksgiving, in which the traditional meal must consist of a turkey as the main dish. This dish also carries over into Christmas as roast turkey is one of the main dishes that may be served for Christmas dinner. But unlike Thanksgiving, which is solely devoted to turkey meat, Christmas dinners may also include other birds or poultry.  These include roast goose or duck. Roasted ham may also be served. Cranberry sauce, vegetables, pumpkin pie and a plum pudding or fruity Christmas pudding for dessert tops off traditional Christmas dinners. Mince pies and pastry that is filled with a mixture of chopped, dried fruit may also be added to the menu.

For drinks at Christmas dinner, a bottle of champagne is very popular, as well as wines. But the everyday beverage of beer is a must for many people to make a meal truly enjoyable. 

Before Christmas Day and the big dinner arrives, there's also another type of food that Americans enjoy in large quantities during the Christmas season. The consumption and sales of candies, gingerbread and other cookies and holiday treats increases rapidly during the holidays. Similar to how department stores seek to attract shoppers to buy items for Christmas gifts, candy manufacturers also put out special boxes and types of candies for Christmas and the holiday season.

A survey done in 2004 by the National Confectioners Association found that many adults derived much pleasure at Christmas from giving and receiving candies and other treats. In their responses the survey participants said that giving decadent boxes of chocolate to friends and family, placing candy canes on the Christmas tree and hiding candy treats in Christmas stockings were favorite ways to give and receive candies, cookies and treats during the holidays.

Sweet treats remain popular at Christmas despite a constant message about dieting that is present in everyday life in the media, in billboards and from some food manufacturers. At Christmas time, people feel free to enjoy the festive season without constraints. But they also know that they can enjoy candies and cookies that are health conscious by eating ones that are targeted to the low-carb dieter by having ingredients that are sugar-free and fat-free or both.

Cookies that are enjoyed at Christmas are often home-baked ones and usually include gingerbread items.  The tradition of gingerbread cookies at Christmas is also believed to have originated in Germany and brought to America by German immigrants. 

 German bakeries began baking very fancy gingerbread houses with icing as edible snow and other decorations after the Grimm Brothers published their children's story, Hansel and Gretel. That story had a description of a house that was made of bread,  a roof of cake and windows of barley. The popularity of the creations by German bakeries gave rise to cookie cutters that were made in a variety of shapes, enabling small gingerbread cookies of various shapes to be baked at home. Some of these cookies that had the shapes of little people and animals were used to decorate Christmas trees.

More than one hundred years ago from today, German homes in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania would have cookies that were up to one foot high in the front of windows of their houses as decorative items during winter. The cookies were often giant gingerbread men and women that had colorful rows of buttons and big smiles. Passersby were often cheered and intrigued by the sight and brought the idea to their homes on a smaller scale.

Being able to enjoy special dishes, candies, cookies and other goodies during Christmas and the holidays adds a sweet flavor to the season and also helps to create warm and cherished memories.