Posts Tagged ‘family tradition’

Preserving Holiday Food Traditions

December 8, 2013

Food traditions often linger longer in families and communities than any other custom. And there is no better time than the holiday season to celebrate old recipes!

Norwegian cookies

I recently taught a workshop designed to help people who want to capture and preserve their own family, ethnic, or community recipes, and was reminded just how precious family recipes are.

Food Traditions Class

After spending the day discussing and writing about food traditions, we shared a meal.

If you are also thinking about creating a family cookbook (or otherwise preserving and sharing treasured recipes), I hope that the following action plan will help focus your thoughts.


What family/community recipes, artifacts, photos, etc. do you have?

Who else might have additional family artifacts?

Who else in your family might have helpful skills?

Do you need to interview any relatives?


This was one of my grandmother’s favorites.


Scan/duplicate what you can

Photograph what you can’t

Store copies in secure location

Clean, stabilize, and store fragile pieces based on professional guidelines, or with professional assistance

Darlene textile

Darlene Fossum-Martin (Education Specialist at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum) demonstrates rolling, instead of folding, an old textile.




Other family/community members

Darlene cutting cookies

Who has family recipes, photos, artifacts, and expertise?


Scope – What recipes do you wish to preserve?

Intended audience – Are you doing this for everyone in your family? Your children? Your community? Ethnic group?

What will be shared – Recipes as written? Updated recipes? Family photos? Food photos? Stories? Family tree? Poems, essays, or other personal/creative writing?

Tone – Do you want to preserve only happy memories? Or is it important to share stories of family conflict?


Do you want to record that the choice of pie was a cause of family discord, or simply record the recipes?


Cookbooks are only one option. You might also create a recipe card packet, booklet, glossy book, scrapbook, calendar, notecards, blog, etc., etc.  (Here’s an example of a blog post I wrote about one of my favorite family recipes.)

No matter how you choose to go about it, preserving family food traditions is a wonderful thing to do!

A Single Candle

December 30, 2012

Earlier this month I wrote about the 23,000 candles lit at the Antietam National Battlefield’s Memorial Illumination each December. Today I’m writing about a single flame.

My mother’s parents always burned a bayberry candle on Christmas eve, a symbol of good luck for the coming year. My mom maintained the tradition. When I was a kid, she used a star-shaped glass candleholder. My sisters and I went to bed before the candle burned down, but when I was young, finding the molded wax in the morning was part of the fun.


The tradition dates back to colonial times.  Candles made from waxy bayberries smelled better than common tallow candles.  The tapers also burned more slowly.  Because so many berries were needed to make candles, bayberry tapers were a luxury.  Many families saved theirs to burn on Christmas or New Year’s eve.  Some may have recited this common rhyme:   “A bayberry candle burned to the socket, will bring joy to the heart and gold to the pocket.”  (Source unknown.)

My mom’s family has roots on the east coast going back to the 1600s. I like to wonder how many generations in the chain have kept this tradition going.

Because Scott and I often travel over the holidays, we haven’t developed any rituals of our own. My mom and her husband Tom still observe the tradition of burning a bayberry candle each December, though. We usually aren’t with them, and the candleholder isn’t the same one we used decades ago; still, I like knowing that each year, the flame is once again lit and the new year ushered in properly.

I wish you all the peace of the season and the simple joy of honoring family traditions. May a shining light lead you through the new year!