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The Familiar Tastes of the Holidays

Finding comfort in foods from around the world

By Linda Roberts, MS, RD

"Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham, Halloween candy. What's your comfort food during the holidays?"

When I posed this question to elders in healthcare communities, they often didn't understand what I was asking them. We've come to define "comfort food" as food that brings some form or measure of comfort, sense of well-being or easy satisfaction. I began asking elders what foods they remembered enjoying during the holidays, what foods made them happy.

Responses varied. Many cited Thanksgiving turkey (with the occasional chicken or duck), pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and gravy. Of course, when it comes to Halloween, residents recalled candy with a number of elders remembering popcorn balls and caramel apples. In farming communities, the children who lived in town trick-or-treated while those living on the farm might only go to a neighbor's house, if they went anywhere at all. Recollections of favorite Christmas foods varied widely. Some reminisced about the cookies and candies their grandmothers made. Others grew up poor and remembered a delicious frosting their mothers prepared and spread on graham crackers.

Celebrations around the world

Elders who immigrated to the United States might not have comfort foods associated with Halloween or Thanksgiving but have fond memories of other traditional celebrations. One woman who grew up in Mexico spoke of the nine-night celebration, Las Posadas, leading up to Christmas Eve. While carrying lit candles, family and friends would sing and pray as they walked to that evening's host's home. The highlight of the evening was a piņata filled with fruit and nuts.

In the Philippines, the Feast of All Saints is celebrated, but Halloween is not. On November 1, picnic meals are prepared and shared at the burial sites of loved ones. Croatians celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 7. Children polish their boots and place them on a windowsill on December 6 to be filled with fruit, cookies and small gifts.

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