What delicious dish or treat comes to mind when you think of the holiday season? What is the one thing you’ve waited all year to indulge in? For many, it’s cookies, or fudge, or green bean casserole. For others, it’s something less “traditional American,” but unique to their family and their heritage. It tells a story about where they’ve come from and the people who have loved them and shaped them into who they are today.
It’s important to cherish those recipes and share them with the people we love. By doing so, we honor those who came before us and keep our story going.
Here are three simple ways to share your heritage through your kitchen this holiday season:
1. Take Your Recipes to a Potluck or Family Gathering
You don’t always have to stick to the menu. When appropriate, step out of the box and introduce your friends and family to something different.
A few years ago, my new sister-in-law called me in preparation for her first Christmas with our family. We worked out logistics, she asked how she could help, and then made a request: she would like to use my kitchen to prepare a dish her family always made on Christmas—oyster stew. I guaranteed her that was not already on my holiday menu, and she was welcome to tackle it.
In doing so, my family not only got to experience a new, tasty dish, but we had the opportunity to learn about this new member of our extended family. She is from West Virginia, (where oyster stew is apparently far more common than it is in Texas), and her grandfather began making the stew as a Christmas tradition. That recipe then got passed down to her mom, and eventually to her. As we worked around each other in the kitchen, the conversation flowed easily and a friendship was formed.
With three young children and a house full of extended family, it would have been easy for me to wave off her request, but I’m so glad that I didn’t. Otherwise, I would’ve missed out on an opportunity to get to know my sister-in-law better. I admire her courage in asking to introduce this special dish to our family, and I am honored that she shared a piece of her history with us.
If you have a dish that is special to you but a bit off the beaten path, take it to your next potluck or holiday gathering anyway. And don’t be shy—share your story. You might just inspire someone else to do the same.
2. Make Deliveries
Every Christmas Eve, I’ve come to expect a little white box full of still-warm kolaches delivered to my door. And it is such a delight! Not only because they’re delicious, but also because it’s fun to receive a gift someone created with you in mind.
My friend’s grandmother was Czech and made kolaches for their family every Christmas. My friend had enough foresight as a teen to realize that no one else knew the recipe, so she asked.
Her grandmother didn’t have an official recipe, so she showed my friend instead. She recalls holding measuring cups under her grandmother’s hands as she eyeballed the recipe. My friend tried to write the recipe down, but it took her years to get it all just right. And now that she has, we all benefit.
The recipe is time-consuming and makes a huge amount of kolaches. But rather than not make them at all, my friend chooses to carry on her grandmother’s Christmas legacy, and share her heritage with her friends through her delicious deliveries.
3. Pass It Down
Like my friend who had the wisdom to ask her grandmother for the kolache recipe before it was too late, we should ask, and share, and listen in order to carry on these special traditions.
My late mother-in-law was well-known for her delicious, sweet tamales. She was perhaps better known among her friends for not sharing that recipe. So, imagine my shock a few years ago when she not only gave me the recipe, but showed me and taught me how to make her top-secret recipe. (She hadn’t even shared it with her own daughter at that point!)
Last year, my husband and I had the absolute joy of making her sweet tamale recipe with our children, her grandchildren. We loved being able to talk about their grandma and share memories and stories of her. I know she would be thrilled to know that her Mexican heritage is being celebrated.
It was beautiful and meaningful for all of us. And at least for a few years, we will have fun keeping the sweet tamale recipe a closely guarded family secret. My kids already asked to make them again this year. They have declared it a holiday tradition, and I couldn’t think of a better one.
Tell your stories, let your children get their hands messy and be part of the process, and share your recipes—and your heritage—with those you love.