Thursday, December 24, 2009

Food as Tradition

Maybe it's the old-fashioned romantic in me, but I love tradition. In fact, these days I think I've even made a tradition of talking about how much I love tradition. I've certainly mentioned it on this blog more than a time or two. For me, no season is more chock full of traditions than the holiday season.

It starts almost immediately after Thanksgiving, when we cut down our Christmas tree. Kelli and I both had this tradition growing up...her in upstate New York, me on Long Island. When we got married and lived in northern New Jersey, we continued the tradition, driving north into the mid-Hudson valley in search of our ideal tannenbaum. Now that we live in Colorado, the tradition has taken on my favorite iteration yet: we buy a $10 permit from the US Forest Service, grab our snowshoes and bow saw, and head off into the snowy Rocky Mountains to cut down a "wild" Christmas tree...usually a Colorado blue spruce.

From that point onward, the traditions come fast and furious. On December 6 we celebrate St. Nicholas Day, the Belgian Christmas. Each year I put out my wooden shoes, which are fully authentic, imported from Holland, and the third pair I've owned over the course of my lifetime. Kelli has a pair, too, which my mom decorated with hand-made stencils evocative of Antwerp where my grandmother grew up. Marin has a tiny pair now, as well. As my mom did for me as a child, Kelli and I filled Marin's shoes with gold-covered chocolate coins, a reminder of the stories behind the real St. Nicholas. (And as my mom often did, I used Hanukkah gelt because they were the only gold-covered chocolate coins I could find!)

Then comes December 13, St. Lucia Day, the Sicilian Christmas. There's a short respite, and then comes December 24, Christmas Eve, and then December 25, the American Christmas.

All of the events are tied together by the tradition of From the spread of appetizers we make for our tree trimming party, to the Polish mock cake I've written about recently, to the kolachkis Kelli's family makes each year, to tonight's Italian elaborate spread of seafood on Christmas Eve (a feast bigger even than the one we'll eat tomorrow on Christmas day). Food is a connection to our cultural heritage, to family members past and present. It is also something passed on to new, younger generations, so that they may continue the traditions, and we become one link of many in those traditions.

When we go gluten-free, we sometimes risk losing those food traditions. We worry that they won't continue, that we can't take part... we feel isolated, set adrift from our previously-held connections to heritage and to family and to region. But it doesn't have to be so. In the beginning, perhaps those traditions will have to be modified to make them gluten-free. Over time, though, if we've learned anything about cooking gluten-free, it's that we can continue to enjoy all of the important foods that have defined our holiday traditions. Save for the meals being gluten-free, they're every bit as enriching, every bit as inclusive, and every bit as traditional as they've ever been. The value of that is beyond words.

And so please, I implore you, hold on to your food traditions. If you've given up a traditional food, make it your New Year's resolution to bring it back in 2010. If you don't know how to make it gluten-free, tell us about it. We love a challenge, and we'd be privileged to try and make a gluten-free version you can enjoy. I know how important traditions can be, and I know what it feels like to come close to losing them. I also know how great it is to retain them, or to regain traditions once thought to be lost.

- Pete


Anonymous said...

I saw my diagnosis of "celiac" as an opportunity to re-invent our traditions. We get excited about grapefruit at Christmas these days. Having said that...I really miss a croissant with my morning coffee, and challah would not be unwelcome either!!

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Great post, Pete! Yes, folks often think they have to give up traditions when they become gluten free, but it's just not the case. some tweaking might be required, but traditions can continue. :-)


peterbronski said...

Hi Anonymous... I agree, a croissan would be nice! (And, it's already on my to-do list of recipes to develop...)

Hi Shirley... Agreed! Tweaking a tradition? Possibly. But giving up a tradition? Absolutely not!

Cheers, Pete