Keeping Traditions Alive

Written by Taline McPhedran, Communications and Events Manager

In a year where so much has been different than the norm, Christmas and the holiday season is no different. 

In an effort to protect loved ones and flatten the rising curve, we’re all now facing changes to our usual holiday plans by staying apart. My family is no different, even though it seems to be in direct contrast to our Armenian culture.

Christmas and the holiday season has always been a time for my family and friends to get together, usually seeing not just my immediate family but extended family too. It’s just one of those things that we do every year.

In my family, we have many traditions: we decorate our tree together, put up our lights, watch a few specific Christmas movies and tuck into a delicious Christmas dinner. My childhood memories of the holidays are only complete with the smell of my mom’s honey ham baking in the oven on Christmas morning. As the ham cooks and my brother and I inspect our gifts, she slices off small pieces for us to try before dinner that night.

It’s a simple memory, but for me an important one. In a year where nothing seems to be as it should, that memory feels even more important and the thought of not being able to experience it, devastating. In all honesty, my family has always put just that something extra into making food for someone else. 

It’s even more devastating to think that some people can’t afford to have a Christmas dinner, particularly in a year with so much job loss. Many, many years ago when the idea of this tradition began to stick in my mind, we started making annual holiday donations to our local food banks. Sometimes we give back monetarily, sometimes we volunteer and sometimes on one of our grocery shopping trips we fill up a separate cart with items to go to our local food bank. In all three ways of giving back, we try to share our family tradition with those in our community.

While nothing makes me happier than gathering around my grandparent’s 20-person dining table with friends and family, we know that’s not possible this year and have made some adjustments to our usual plan. This year we decided to make everything we usually would and do a food drop off instead, so everyone can still enjoy their favourite holiday foods.

So, from my family to yours, here’s what we’ll be enjoying this holiday season, separate but feeling together.

We always start with my grandmother’s manti: small, uniform, homemade baked dumplings stuffed with ground meat and served in a warm broth. I like mine sprinkled with soumak while my mom likes hers with yogurt.

Our main course consists of holiday foods we’re all familiar with: healthy scoops of mashed potatoes, roasted butternut squash, steamed brussels sprouts and my mom’s honey spiral ham with her homemade sweet and tangy glaze.

Our unique addition is my and my brother’s absolute favourite Armenian dish. There are many ways to spell it, many ways to make it and many cultures say it’s theirs, but nothing beats my grandmother’s homemade burek. Christmas always features the baked kind: layers of soft ricotta and feta between layers of flaky filo dough, brushed with an egg wash and baked until the edges are crispy and golden brown.

We finish the night off with a few desserts: my grandmother’s chocolate rum balls – my personal favourite – and my mom’s favourite anoushabour, an Armenian Christmas pudding made with wheat, dried fruits and nuts.

Our tradition of a big family feast was one that I wasn’t willing to pass up on, so with some adjustments we’re making it work. Although we might be physically separated, we’ll feel like we’re together, just like any other year.

What holiday traditions do you have and how are you making it work this year? We’re always interested to know!