Holiday traditions: Sharing experiences through food

By Chef Kurt Michael Friese

The holidays bring a wealth of soul-nourishing rituals and traditions, mostly having to do with gratitude, light, family and – of course – food. These traditions come from a place of love and respect, and our holiday tables wouldn’t be the same without them.


New traditions might be a result of appropriating an old standby, like making potato pancakes from your leftover mashed potatoes.

Sharing experiences through food
There are many items that must be present at my family’s holiday table, including the clam dip, the wild rice dressing, Grandma’s cranberries and Mom’s bourbon pound cake. My wife Kim’s family had different food traditions, including oyster stew and tamales (odd for her Scots-German heritage) as well as some more conventional Midwestern items like green bean casserole. But the best tradition of her family, and the one that made it so easy for us to combine our holiday traditions when we married more than 25 years ago, was having a modest meal of cornbread and beans every Christmas Eve.

Kim’s mother and grandmother both used a boxed mix for their cornbread, but Kim married a chef, so now we make it from scratch. We are all the more grateful for the rich and luxurious feast on Christmas Day, which offers a counterpoint of good fortune alongside the prior night’s nod of respect to a time not so long ago when our families could afford no more than cornbread and beans for their holiday supper. We must always remember that our family was not always so fortunate, and tomorrow once again may not be.

That’s the thing about traditions – there are stories and reasons behind all of them. Old traditions are important, but it’s just as important to create our own stories, and start new traditions with new reasons. Since the best way humanity knows to share experiences is through food, the table is where many new traditions begin.

Evolving traditions
Changes need not be major; they might be as simple as making green beans from scratch or adding a bit of cheddar to your apple pie crust. Or they might be a result of appropriating an old standby, like making potato pancakes  from your leftover mashed potatoes. Or, take pumpkin pie: Nearly every Thanksgiving feast includes one, but what if it came in the form of a cheesecake instead?

Another way to change-up your holiday traditions is to get kids involved.  One New Year’s Eve, long ago when my children were small, we had a fun evening making weird food the kids had never tasted before – they got to choose what it was. That first year resulted in roasted beet skewers with peanut dipping sauce, and now we make them every New Year’s Eve.

All you need for a great new tradition is family and friends in a kitchen together. The rest will take care of itself. So here’s hoping your holidays find you surrounded by family, friends and wonderful food.

Share your family’s food traditions in the comments!

Kurt HeadshotAbout the Author: Chef Kurt Michael Friese graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, where he also served as a Chef-Instructor. With 34 years of professional food service experience, he has been chef and owner, with his wife Kim McWane Friese, of the Iowa City, Iowa, restaurant and bar Devotay for 17 years. Chef Kurt is partnering with Frontier and Simply Organic to bring you recipes and tips for rediscovering and reinventing your own traditions this holiday season. Find more recipes at and or watch cooking videos on YouTube.

3 thoughts on “Holiday traditions: Sharing experiences through food

  1. Great post! As an artist, art teacher & a member of the human race, I usually associate everything with food; culture, artwork, color, shape, & holidays. Our family is diverse & I am constantly trying something new in my kitchen. I have been required (by family law!) to bring my Pumpkin Cheesecake to both Thanksgiving & Christmas gatherings. This year’s twist on a now 20 year tradition? I am making my own cream cheese & sour cream called for in this recipe! Let’s see if Grandma notices!

    • Fantastic – especially the part about making your own cheese. Most people don’t realize just how simple that is. The one catch? Sanitize! Just as with any fermentation, like wine or beer-making, sanitizing is vital. So did you do it for T-Day? Did grandma notice?

      • Sanitary kitchen & equipment ALWAYS! Sadly, Grandma went for the store bought apple pie, but the rest of us enjoyed the new version of a family favorite! It had a fluffier texture which we all agreed was an improvement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s