Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, family traditions are comforting. A link to the past acted out in the present, they can be a way to measure the moments and years of our lives together. Impacted by economic fluctuations, family size changes and logistics, family traditions evolve over the years as much as they remain the same.
"In the ‘30s and ‘40s, my mother made a sweet soup of tapioca, blackberries and raspberries on Christmas Eve," recalls Shirley Morgan, who recently visited Tacoma for a family reunion. "We were Danish cattle ranchers and farmers."
Morgan says her family also enjoyed frikadeller, a ground hamburger, onion and tomato dish, during the holidays.
"The hamburger was from our livestock and we grew all our vegetables," she recalls.
Seasoned with allspice, the pan-fried meatloaf-like balls were served with gravy and rice.
"Everyone would fix their plate and sit around together in the family room while the children acted out the nativity story," Morgan says. "Leftovers were eaten for lunch on Christmas Day after presents."
With her own family in the ‘50s and '60s, Morgan says she never had a Christmas Eve party and instead shifted focus to a different dinner.
"I made a glorious Christmas Day dinner - a big roast, gravy, mashed potatoes, root vegetables and fruit cake with raisins, currants, nuts and sweet cream frosting at the end of the meal. I made that dinner from scratch just like my mother did," she says with humble pride.
In the ‘70s, former Gig Harbor resident Heather Sikas was exposed to the traditions of her husband's family.
"For Christmas Eve, they had a casual supper of cold cuts, pumpernickel and dark rye, sliced cheeses, pickled herring, pickled eggs and plum pudding," Sikas recalls. While preparing the foods, Sikas says her mother-in-law, Genevieve, talked about the family's heritage and the foods they were making.
In the ‘80s, Sikas began a personal tradition of making hot December cider spiced with cloves and cinnamon. "It was simple," she says. "I used orange juice concentrate, Fresca, cranberry, lemon and apple juice. People loved it and I've made it ever since."
Judi Rowley's family traditions have changed over the years since moving to Washington from Oregon. She says in the ‘80s and ‘90s she would prepare and serve a full turkey dinner for Christmas dinner.
"It got to the point that I wasn't having fun on Christmas, cooking all that food," she says. "As the family grows and changes, we have new traditions. These days I do a ham."
Rowley's son, Derek, talks about the upcoming Christmas meal of spiral honey ham, casserole, apple crisp and sparkling cider with definite anticipation in his voice.
"We always have Yummy Potatoes; that's tradition for us," Derek says.
When asked about "Yummy Potatoes" Judi Rowley laughs a little and explains that's what her kids named the cheesy potato casserole they love.
"Sometimes you don't know things are traditions until the kids speak up when you don't do them," she says. "My homemade rolls are like that, too. I used Costco rolls one year and I've never lived it down."
For New Year's Eve, Rowley makes a layered dip of cream cheese, cocktail sauce, shredded cheddar cheese and bay shrimp eaten with Frito's.
In the new millennium, Denise Shaw says her family of seven has many mini feasts. "We put a prime rib in the oven on Christmas Eve and head off to a movie. When we get back it's done and we enjoy a good meal together. We read the The Night before Christmas and play a white elephant gift game."
Shaw says she also makes pecan-chocolate-caramel turtles, fudge, and English toffee.
"We also have a big breakfast Christmas morning. Some years we've even had whole crabs and fries. And on New Year's Eve we have a fondue party," she says.
It is with great nostalgia, appetite and anticipation that I think of my own family (foodie) traditions. Happy Holidays to all.