Holiday Traditions of the United States of America Merry Christmas!

Gingerbread Cookies

History books refer to the United States as "the melting pot" where all nations and traditions blend together. Indeed, our Christmas celebrations would indicate just that. We have carols from England and Australia and trees from Germany. Santa Claus, or St. Nick in a red suit originated in Scandinavia and his arrival through the chimney to fill stockings is reminiscent of the Netherlands. His sleigh drawn by reindeer began in Switzerland, and our parades may be a carry-over from Latin processions. Of course the traditional feasting is typical of all nations. We, in turn, have fattened up the jolly old man in the red suit and blended all the traditions until he comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve, leaves gifts and stockings filled with treats and departs in a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer. The media has helped to make this a universal Christmas image. Yet each regions of the U.S. has its own peculiarity.

From ancient times, American Indians have held religious dances to coincide with the winter solstice. Franciscan monks succeeded in bringing this Indian celebration and the Christmas Holy Day together. Thirty-five miles south of Santa Fe, in the San Felipe Pueblo, is held perhaps one of the most unique Christmas Eve dances. Shortly after the priest has delivered his Christmas Eve sermon and departed, birdcalls burst from the loft (sounds produced by blowing into a shallow dish of water through a split, perforated hollow reed). An insistent drum takes over and dancers move into the blazing light of the altar. Dressed in masks, animal skins, feathers, coral, shells, turquoise and head dresses with real antlers, they perform the deer, turtle, eagle and buffalo dances. Women carry a sprig of HAKAK, the sacred spruce tree, which represents eternal life and which they believed helped to create mankind.

From the Appalachian mountains came one of today's most popular Christmas songs, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." This was originally a "counting song" of magical or pagan origin, and no one seems to know what it originally meant. However, today it has become the theme of many Christmas cards and displays.

Downtown shopping centers in Hawaii display Santa's helpers as "menehunes," the legendary little people who are supposed to have been the first inhabitants of Hawaii before the Polynesians seized the islands. Palm trees are strung with decorate delights and fragrant flowers are hung in leis around the indoor Christmas tree.

Pennsylvania's Moravian population embrace Christmas with a "Love-Fest." These are musical services in which the congregation partakes of simple food while the choir sings appropriate hymns and anthems. Usually, the congregation must be served sweet buns and coffee in the time it takes to sing three hymns. Candles are distributed, made of beeswax (for until the 15th century, it was believed bees were made in Paradise), and as the final anthem is sung, all raise their lighted candles to "Praise to Our Heavenly King."

The greatest variety in the traditions, however, comes in the taste of Christmas feast:

  • New England has Lumberjack Pie ( a mashed potato crust, filled with meats, onion and cinnamon.)
  • Pennsylvania Dutch serve Sand Tarts (thing, crisp sugar cookies)
  • North Carolina features Moravian Love-Feast Buns (faintly sweet bread of flour and mashed potatoes.)
  • Baltimore serves Sauerkraut with their Turkey (which includes apples, onions and carrots.)
  • Virginia gives us oyster and ham pie.
  • Southern states have Hominy Grits Soufflé and Whiskey Cake (with one cup of 100-proof whiskey.)
  • Louisiana's treat is Creole Gumbo. It can include ham, veal, chicken, shrimp, oysters and crabmeat.
  • New Mexico has the Empanaditas--little beef pies with applesauce pine nuts and raisins.
  • Hawaii blesses us with Turkey Teriyaki marinated and cooked over an outdoor pit.

Whatever the region, Christmas is one of the most celebrated and enjoyed holidays in the nation.

TRADITIONAL DISHES FROM USA

Most American families have the traditional stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes & gravy, pumpkin pie, and more for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here are some more unique holiday treats.

TURKEY DINNER

Follow these 10 easy steps to create a picture-perfect turkey:

  1. If turkey is frozen, thaw in the refrigerator or cold water. When ready to cook, remove the wrapper. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Remove the neck from the body cavity and the giblets from the neck cavity. Drain the juices and blot the cavities with paper towels.
  3. Just before roasting, stuff the neck and body cavities lightly, if desired.Turn the wings back to hold the neck skin in place. Return legs to tucked position, if untucked. No trussing is necessary.
  4. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a flat rack in an open roasting pan about 2 inches deep.
  5. Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the lower part of the thigh next to the body, not touching the bone.
  6. Brush the skin with vegetable oil to prevent skin from drying. Further basting is unnecessary.
  7. Wash preparation utensils, work surfaces and hands in hot, soapy water following contact with uncooked turkey and juices.
  8. Roast at 325 degrees F. For approximate cooking times, see roasting time schedule. When the skin is light golden, about 2/3 done, shield the breast loosely with lightweight foil to prevent overcooking.
  9. Check for doneness 1/2 hour before turkey is expected to be done.Turkey is fully cooked when the thigh's internal temperature is 180 degrees F.The thickest part of breast should read 170 degrees F and the center of the stuffing should be 160 degrees F.
  10. When done, let the turkey stand for 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

TURKEY TERIYAKI (Hawaiian Treat)

10-14 lb. turkey, sliced and chunked

Marinade recipe:

2 cups soy sauce
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup sake or sherry
1 tbl. fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbls. vegetable oil

Mix marinade ingredients in large container. Add turkey, making sure it is completely coated. Leave in marinade for 20 minutes or longer. Cook over open fire.

OYSTER AND HAM "PIE"

1 pint fresh oysters with liquid
1 chopped onion
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup chopped cooked ham, preferably cured
2 cups green peas or 1 package frozen
Turn oven to 400f.

Separate oysters from liquid, and reserve both. Sauté chopped onion in 2 tbls. butter until golden. Remove onion and reserve. Adding remaining butter, melt; then add flour gradually, blending well. Let cool. Stir milk gradually into butt-flour mixture, then simmer, stirring constantly.

Add wine and oyster liquid. This will make a very thick white sauce. Do not thin. Dish can be prepared to this point, then refrigerated until time of final cooking. Add oysters, cooked onion, ham, and peas to wine-oyster liquid mixture and turn into ovenware pot or dish.

Put in preheated 400f. oven and cook 15 minutes, or until peas are just done. Serve with tiny biscuits. If pie crust is added, bake until crust is golden.

MORAVIAN LOVE-FEAST BUNS

1 cake yeast
1/4 cup tepid water
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup soft butter
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup warm mashed potatoes
2 cups or more lukewarm water
Melted butter or cream for glazing

Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Add sugar to beaten egg, then softened butter, salt, warm mashed potatoes, and yeast mixture. Add alternately flour and warm water to make soft but firm dough. Knead until smooth on lightly floured board or in hands.

Cover with clean, warm cloth and set in warm place to rise until double in bulk. When dough has risen, punch down and make into buns 3" to 4" in diameter. (If preferred, any other shape may be made with this dough.) Place so they do not touch on greased sheets. Cover with warm cloth and let rinse again.

Place in 400 F. oven and bake until brown, about 20 minutes. Brush with cream or melted butter just before removing from stove. Makes 18 to 20 buns.

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