By: Nicole Kucharski
Depending on one’s religious and cultural background, every family has their own food traditions on Christmas Eve. I remember last year sitting with my family eating traditional polish eats (no meat!) which included red bet soup with cabbage and mushroom filled dumplings, vegetable salad, fish in jello, pierogi, and others. Now that I have shared a little bit about my Christmas Eve dinner, let’s take a look at how different Chicago peeps spend their traditional Christmas Eve, as well as, how some have tweaked tradition.
Roman Catholic families, such as mine, abstain from meats on holy days such as Christmas Eve. The tradition of abstaining from meat usually acts as a penitence for past sins , however, it’s likely that other reasons for this traditions exist. Maria says, “Every year my family and I sit down and indulge in assorted pastas, veggie salads, and different types of fish. A few times, my aunt hosted the “Feast of Seven Fishes” which consists of seven types of fish from cod to salmon.” The importance of the number seven stems from Roman Catholicism. “The reason for the number seven is due to its religious importance. Seven stands for the seven days of creation and seven days of sacraments of the Catholic Church,” states Maria.
Agnes Koscielniak comes from a Polish family, just as I do, and every she and her family sit down and eat a 12-dish Christmas Eve supper. “The number twelve stands for the twelve apostles,” says Agnes. “The Christmas Eve menu usually includes fish, such as carp, stuffed cabbage, borscht, and little cabbage dumplings. For dessert we usually serve makowiec, a poppy seed pastry, and piernik, a honey and spice flavored cake.” However, before her family can sit down and eat, they must first perform a ritual. “The breaking of the ‘oplatek’,”explains Agnes, “allows for each person to go up to someone else and tell them what they are thankful for and what nice things they wish you.” F.y.i. cheap eater$, oplatek is an unleavened wafer that is thin and fragile in nature, and usually imprinted with some sort of religious image.
Dan Ramirez of Chicago, enjoys a traditional Mexican Christmas Eve supper each year. “We always have tamales and menudo, a type of soup with meat and hominy (a type of corn). We also have punch, one spiked and the other without alcohol for the kids. For dessert we usually have bunuelos, which look like small doughnuts, and champurrado, a special hot chocolate,” says Dan. “The only thing that might not be very ‘traditional’ about our Christmas Eve,” says Dan, “is that we don’t wait until midnight to eat supper. We usually eat a little earlier, like around 9pm.”
Each family, big or small, has a dish they call familiar or special each Christmas Eve. For students who can’t spend Christmas Eve with their families, this is the time to make your own food traditions. From Christmas cookie trading, to perhaps your very own “Feast of the Seven Pastas,” the possibilities to make your Christmas Eve unique are endless.
Ashley Greene from Alabama, doesn’t always get to spend Christmas Eve with her family, so she started a new tradition with friends. “During my five years in Chicago, two of the times I was unable to spend Christmas Eve with my family so I made my own ‘Xmas Eve Din Din’ with friends and colleagues. While I try to accommodate some traditional food pieces, I had a few new ideas of my own,” admits Ashley. Ashley makes Christmas cupcakes for dessert because as she says, “it fits into my budget and time availability.” “For the entree I don’t only stick to cheapie food, but do incorporate a sort of student twist to traditional pasta entrees. Like for example, I make canned ravioli and mac&cheese as two of my pasta dishes. Also, the two times that I hosted Christmas Eve at my apartment, I made it a sort of potluck event, since everyone who came by brought something of their own,” says Ashley.
Whether it’s old or new, traditions can begin at anytime. So, Cheap Eater$, whether you will be spending this Christmas Eve with family or friends, one thing to remember is that no matter the food or company, the special time you spend this holiday will be one to always cherish and remember.
Maria, Agnes, Dan, and Ashley have their special themes maybe a fun theme might be just the thing for you and your family and friends. Please, if you have any meal suggestions post them in our comment box. We appreciate all the love.