thoughts on food, culture, and community

Archive for the tag “Christmas”

30×30: Lesson 10: The spice of life

Pizza Hut at Grandma's

Pizza Hut at Grandma’s was an anytime tradition. 1989?

There’s a reason why I know all the words to “Tradition,” the opening number to Fiddler on the Roof. From the way my mom spelled out our birthday ages with chocolate chips in the frosting of our cakes, to the races that all the cousins would run (and still do) in my grandmother’s basement during the Grove Christmas, I have a special fondness for things that happen the same way, year after year.

Traditions are reminders of where you’ve come from and, in a certain way, provide a sense of where you’re going. Whatever happens this year, for example, I am pretty sure that I will still be invited to my aunt and uncle’s cottage for Thanksgiving as I have been since I was born; and I’ve already brainstorming the logistics of my fifth annual Cookie Party.

But sometime when I was 20, I realized that, when driving around my hometown, I always navigated certain streets over others, not because they were more convenient but because they were more familiar. When I first began to cook for myself in Talange, France, I developed the tendency to make eggs for dinner multiple times a week, not necessarily because I adored omelets but because I didn’t have the capacity to think up anything else.

At best, traditions solidify groups and knit people together, but running ruts into my own traditions was stagnating.

When Melinda Hoey came into my life, one of the first things I loved about her was the way she would deal with change. No chocolate chips for the cookies? Try mint chips instead. No taste for turkey this Christmas? Lasagna was cool. “Something different,” she’d shrug.

And this was revelatory: that traditions could be beautiful, but so could the skill of exploration, newness, and openness to the unknown.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

Friday Photo: No Last Call for these holiday tunes, Harrisburg

No Last Chance, Little Amps, Harrisburg, December 2013

No Last Chance, Little Amps, Harrisburg, December 2013

Hit-and-run holiday music by “No Last Call,” crowded into and outside of Little Amps, Harrisburg?

This season is best shared with surprise, generosity, and streetside tunes.

Take it easy, Santa: All about… Germany {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

This week’s post is written by Christine Stumböck from Ichenhausen, a small town in the south of Germany. She misses good German bread, readily-available recycling, and the ability to buy groceries by bike. Christine currently resides in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


When I was younger and still living in Germany, I always had the impression that Christmas was a much bigger deal in the US. I guess it was mostly because of the blinking, colorful, and giant Christmas decorations that some families had in and around their house, often starting to pop up as early as November. Or maybe it was because of the fact that Santa Claus as we know him today is an invention of Coca-Cola. But anyway, my family always preferred subtle, natural-looking decorations like straw ornaments, and my mother would never put metal on our tree or plastic Santas in our lawn. It’s also a common German tradition to put up the Christmas tree and fully decorate the house on December 24. After all the work is finished, we sit together in the evening to open presents before going to church at midnight. So for me, Christmas always started late. And Christmas as a celebration always was over quickly because we received our presents shortly after we’d decorated the tree!

When I came to the United States two years ago, I realized that an American Christmas is much shorter than I realized. For a big part of the working population, Christmas is often not more than a single day off to spend with your friends and family. For those of us in the service industry — we who must keep the grocery stores and retail shops open at late as possible to accommodate last-minute shoppers — Christmas is the busiest time of the year.

Of course, there are also stores and restaurants open around Christmas in Germany, and many Germans consider the Christmas season to be a busy time. However, German federal law protects Christmas. First, there’s a law that requires stores to maintain “normal” working hours year-round for all those in retail; this law is called the Ladenschlussgesetz, or shop-closing law. This means that all stores are closed on Sundays and are never as late as 10 or 11 PM during the week; this is true even in big cities like Munich where I lived for several years. This law also has a specific regulation for Christmas Eve which requires that stores close in the afternoon so that everybody can go home and enjoy the holiday with their family.

Secondly, even though Christmas itself is shorter in Germany, Christmas as a season is much longer. The second day of Christmas, December 26, is a national holiday. And as most workers have more vacation days than we do in the U.S. (I had 28 days per year), many people are able to take off until New Year’s Day or even January 6, another national German holiday.

It took me a couple of years living outside of Germany to value federal regulations and realize what I really miss about Christmas. It’s not the colorful decorations, the shopping trips months ahead, or the plentiful gifts — it’s time. Time to sit together with family and friends. Time to calm down and fully relax. Time to think about the year that’s ending and to recapture all the memories, both good and bad.

So, Santa, maybe you could think about that until the next Christmas season rolls around…as I’m sure it will, way too soon.

Traditional spitzbuben cookies, December 2010

Traditional spitzbuben cookies, December 2010


Trier, Germany, 2010

Dried oranges from my German roommate, Talange, France, 2007

Christmas oranges dried by my German roommate, Talange, France, 2007

Friday Photo: Miracle on 34th Street, Baltimore

34th Street, Baltimore

34th Street, Baltimore, January 2013

Tasteless and overzealous or one of Baltimore’s holiday hits? This Friday Photo is of what’s known as “The Miracle on 34th Street,” not in terms of the movie but of the 700 block of 34th Street between Chestnut Street and Keswick Road in Baltimore, Maryland. According to Wikipedia, this display, which is a collaborative effort of all residents on this historic Hampden street, began in 1947 and can attract 1,000 visitors daily. Quirky themes include a Christmas tree made with old vinyls or bicycle-wheel snowmen.

This photo is of 34th Street in daylight, but click here to see photos of this miracle lit up at night.

Friday Photo: The color of a Christmas play

December 2012

December 2012

When I think about celebrating Christmas, I think of wrapping gifts while streaming radio, baking peanut butter blossoms with my sister, and attending school plays like this one, built on homemade crafts, glitter, Elmer’s glue, and construction paper.

Friday Photo: Garland in the rain, Pittsburgh

Garland in the rain

Strip District, Pittsburgh, December 2012

A rainy day, a bare street, and silver water dripping from the tips of the garlands as the Strip District fades into dusk. I expected this sight to be somber, not festive, but somehow, I sensed the holiday more clearly here than I have anywhere else in Pittsburgh to date — the deep gray of the day contrasting the garland into a brighter green, a rain-splattered hand-written sign, and the cherry red bows gleaming brightly despite the twilight.

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