Traditional Christmas Foods From Around the World

The holidays are here once again and for most people that means large family meals. Growing up in the southern part of the United States these meals largely consisted of things like turkey, spiral ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and an assortment of homemade desserts. However common in this area, that does not necessarily hold true for other parts of the world or even other areas of the United States. This blog will look at some of the more common dishes from around the world with information coming from Traditional Christmas Foods, Traditional Christmas Food From Around the World [With Photos!], and Traditional Holiday Dishes From Around the World.

England: Christmas Pudding and Mincemeat Pies

“A Christmas Carol” and other U.K.-originated holiday stories frequently mention seasonal dishes such as plum pudding and mince pies.

Christmas Pudding: This dish goes by many names. Whether you call it figgy pudding, plum pudding, ‘pud’ or Christmas pudding, this dessert is a key Christmas tradition in England, Ireland and some parts of the US.  Despite its name, plum pudding doesn’t actually include plums. Pre-Victorian era, ‘plums’ referred to what we now call raisins, and because dried fruits are an important part of this pudding, it is how it earned its name.

Primarily made of suet, egg, molasses, spices, and dried fruits, Christmas pudding is set alight with brandy immediately before it is served. Make Christmas pudding with this recipe.

Mincemeat Pies: Mincemeat, in its original incarnation of a mixture of chopped meat mixed with dried fruits, sugar, and spices was a way to stretch a meat supply and use up leftovers. Over time, less and less meat was included in the recipe, so that the mincemeat we know today is made entirely from fruits, sugar, alcohol, and sometimes, in a nod to its origins, suet.

By the 16th century, mince pies were a British Christmas specialty. Some suppose that mincemeat pies were popular at Christmas thanks to the Saturnalia tradition of presenting sweetmeats to Roman fathers in the Vatican. Puritans condemned mincemeat pies as a Catholic custom, which may explain why they’re less popular in the US than in the UK. Make a traditional mincemeat pie with this recipe.

France: La Bûche de Noël

La Bûche de Noël is a dessert that symbolically represents the Yule Log – a wood log that was traditionally carried into the home, sprinkled with wine, and then burned on Christmas Eve. In the 1940s when the practice started to disappear, this dessert took up the mantle.

To honor this tradition in an edible and decadent way, sweet cakes were baked and rolled to mimic the aspect of a log. Nowadays, chocolate Yule logs are commonly made of layered or rolled genoise sponge cake filled with mousse or buttercream. Often decorated with marzipan or meringue mushrooms, forest creatures, or holly leaves, the log can be simply dusted with powdered sugar and decorated with a few red berries.

Other variations of the dessert have emerged. Now you can find recipes for anything from tiramisu to cran-raspberry mascarpone, caramel cream to Meyer lemon.

Make La Bûche de Noël with this recipe.

Japan: Kentucky Fried Chicken

In Japan, the Christmas season is the most wonderful time of the year for Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC, a fast-food chain. Because about 3.6 million Japanese families eat KFC on Christmas Eve, they often need to reserve their meal up to two months in advance.

During the 1970s, KFC put together a holiday party bucket and behind it, a brilliant marketing plan. At the time, Japan didn’t have many Christmas traditions. KFC filled that void by telling consumers “Here is something that you should do on Christmas”. The trend caught on quickly.

Today, the KFC Christmas bucket doesn’t include just fried chicken. It also includes a Christmas cake – another important food item on Japan’s holiday menu.

Order online from KFC.

Lithuania: Kūčios

Kūčios, the traditional Lithuanian Christmas dinner, is held on December 24th every year. And hosting kūčios is no small feat – this meal can take up to a week to prepare.

For Lithuanians, the holidays are about spending time with family, so a week-long meal prep is certainly a great opportunity for families to get together and is likely why the tradition has persisted.

Originally kūčios had nine dishes. It was a pagan practice that later expanded to 12 dishes (one for each apostle) when it was appropriated by the Christian church.

No meat, dairy, or hot food are a part of this meal. Instead, it includes fish, breads, and vegetables. Some of the items you might see on the menu are herring served in a tomato, mushroom or onion-based sauce, smoked eel, vegetables such as potatoes, sauerkraut (it’s cabbage so it counts as a vegetable, right?), and mushrooms, bread or cranberry pudding.

Example of a dish, make this cranberry fruit jelly with this recipe.

Mexico: Bacalao

Bacalao, or salted cod, is not common in most countries during the holidays, but it’s a staple dish in Mexico.

Before refrigeration existed, salting and preserving meats and fish was necessary. Today, this is no longer the case, but the practice still exists. And when, in the case of bacalao, the fish is rehydrated and cooked, the result is tender and delicious.

In Mexico, the ingredients to make the Bacalao a la Mexicana include tomatoes, ancho chiles, onions, cinnamon, potato, and olives. It’s filling and it certainly warms you up!

Make bacalao with this recipe.

Italy: Panettone

Italy has numerous regional traditions when it comes to Christmas dinner.

In some parts of Italy, they celebrate with The Feast of the Seven Fishes. This meal includes seven different fish prepared in seven different ways. More often than not, two of the featured items are baccalà (salted cod) and calamari.

In other areas, they eat roasted lamb, or poultry roasted or boiled and seasoned with sauce.

Sweets also play an important role during the holiday season, and in Northern Italy, one of the infamous holiday sweets is panettone – a cake with candied fruit, chocolate, raisins, and nuts.

There are plenty of legends on how panettone became associated with Christmas. Some say the sweet Milanese bread was developed in the 1400s by the Duke’s falconer and his love Adalgisa, a poor baker’s daughter. Working in secret at night, the two created a rich bread that revived the bakery’s business. At Christmas, they added dried fruit and citron, a resounding success that made the baker wealthy and allowed the couple to marry. A less romantic possibility is that as a “Pane di Tono” or luxury bread, the lofty loaf—with its expensive ingredients and long proofing and preparation time—was reserved for Christmas.

Make panettone with this recipe.

United States: Fruitcake

Calvin Trillin theorized that there is only one fruitcake and that it is simply sent from family to family each year. Most Americans turn their noses at the very thought of fruitcake. But for some reason, this item keeps making the rounds.

The recipes for the heavily fruit-laden, sometimes boozy fruitcakes we associate with Christmas today have their roots in the Middle Ages. Dried fruits and sugar were expensive imports, so using them in large quantities was strictly a special-occasion endeavor; that’s why fruitcake was also a traditional wedding cake option. Plus, in the days of hard-to-regulate wood-burning ovens, successful cake baking was a tricky effort, and taking the risk of burning such precious ingredients was only reserved for the very knowledgeable and only during special occasions.

Although there are as many fruit cake recipes as there are cooks, they all agree on the use of spices, a combination of dried or candied fruit, and some liquor or wine.

Make a traditional fruitcake with this recipe.

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Gift Giving Traditions From Around the World

Gift giving is a tradition as old as time and there are many customs and traditions that vary the whole world over. Have you ever wondered about gift giving origins or how your family’s gift giving compares to those of other countries or religions? This blog will take a brief look at the history of gift giving and highlight a few of the more unique traditions from around the globe, including what one article says are traditional American gift giving traits. Information in this blog came from History and Traditions of Gifting from Around the World, Guide to Gift Giving Around The World, 20 Unique Gift-Giving Traditions Around the World, and Curious Gift Traditions Around The World.

History of Gifting

Gift-giving is one of the oldest human activities that dates to the origin of our species before civilizations came to be. Cavemen would give gifts to express their affection and appreciation towards one another and tribe leaders would praise someone for their contributions by giving them a gift. Naturally, back then gifts were more primitive; they would gift things such as an animal tooth, a tree bark or a unique looking stone, which could then be worn as necklaces or other accessories.

In the Middle Ages, gifts were given to show allegiance to and to foster political and religious favors to those in charge. Gifts were also exchanged on New Year’s Day, and common valued gifts at the time came in the form of foods to show power and generosity. A variety of romantic gifts that may strike us as a little weird were also given at that time including love songs composed by men and performed in front of women, washbasins, personalized garments and sewing strands of your hair into your soul-mate’s clothes.

Britain

The culture of gifting in Britain is characterized by a number of unique gifts, such as lottery tickets. These are often considered as appropriate gifts for marriages, while pre-Christmas celebrations are commemorated with gifts of oranges, candles, and ribbons. In Britain, people sometimes receive a decorative key on their 21st birthdays. Although diamonds are usually gifted on the celebration of 75 years of marriage, they are also often associated with 60, as Queen Victoria marked her jubilee while being on the throne for sixty years.

China

China has a long-standing tradition of customary reciprocity, which extends itself into their gifting habits. A gift in China is always well-wrapped in a wrapper of an appropriate color: gold or silver for weddings, red for joyous occasions, and black or white for funerals. Gifts in China are never enthusiastically accepted, as it is seen as a sign of greed. It is customary to insist the recipient to accept the gift even after they decline it once or twice. Gifts in China are usually thoughtful and impersonal, as jewelry, clothing, etc. are considered as items which may be gifted only to romantic partners.

Fiji

While people in many countries typically present diamonds to seal an engagement, Fiji prefers to use whale teeth. Tradition in the Oceanic country dictates that the groom’s family presents the bride’s family with the tooth of a sperm whale, known as a tabua. Believed to have supernatural powers, a tabua is highly prized and is supposed to bring good luck to the marriage. In addition to engagements, they also are traditionally gifted at funerals, weddings, and births. Since they are both expensive and rare, they are considered more precious than other gemstones.

Iceland

Since Iceland is one of the most literate countries in the world, the country’s holiday gift-giving tradition is every book lover’s dream. The tradition is called “Yule Book Flood” and it begins before Christmas, when the country distributes a free national catalog that contains every recently published book in Iceland. Using the catalog, gift-givers choose books for their loved ones and then present the gifts on Christmas Eve. Then everyone spends the evening happily reading their newly acquired books at home.

India

Indian tradition specifies the exact way a gift should be handed over. Since the left hand is considered unclean, it should not be used for eating, shaking hands, or giving gifts. Gift-givers must always offer the gift using the right hand in order to be respectful. Gifting money is also a welcomed tradition in India, but the amount of cash or value of a check must always be an odd number. Instead of $50, $51 is considered more appropriate since odd numbers are good luck.

Ireland

Similar to the Chinese tradition, gift-giving etiquette in Ireland requires that the recipient must refuse the gift at least twice before accepting it on the third offer. This tradition dates back to the Irish Potato Famine, a period in history that marked mass starvation and destitution throughout the country. During this time, many people had nothing to offer their guests, although the old rules of hospitality dictated otherwise. For example, if a cup of tea was offered, guests would refuse at least three times to ensure they weren’t being too burdensome on their host by taking precious resources unnecessarily.

Italy

Although the concept of Santa Claus or “Bobbo Natale” in Italian is prevalent in parts of Italy, La Befana maintains a larger presence for children throughout the country. The kindly witch delivers presents on January 6, a day celebrated as the Epiphany in the Catholic church. Bearing some similarities to Saint Nick, La Befana flies through the air on a broomstick, dropping either cherished gifts or lumps of coal in children’s stockings, depending on their most recent behavior.

Kenya

Many cultures don’t approve of the act of spitting, especially when it comes to gift-giving, but for the nomadic Maasai people of Kenya, it is essential. The Maasai recognize spitting as a blessing, which is why it’s common for gifts to be spit on before being presented to the recipient. The act of spitting on a gift (or spitting on anything for that matter) demonstrates respect toward the recipient and wishes them good luck. Even more common is the act of spitting on newborn babies and brides, or before shaking hands in greeting.

Malaysia

Malaysia has a few unusual practices regarding gifting, as it has a rich culture of reciprocal bonding. Corporate gifts in Malaysia are often avoided, as they may be perceived as bribes. Gifts are never opened immediately by the recipient in front of the giver, as it is often believed that a poor choice of gift might embarrass both parties. Due to the multicultural nature of Malaysia, a wide range of customs are observed while gifts are exchanged between people from different religions. Gifts in Malaysia are always given and received with both hands and is given shortly before departure, instead of making the present immediately after arrival.

Scotland

In Scotland, New Year’s Eve is referred to as Hogmanay, a holiday that originated from winter solstice celebrations held by the Vikings. There are some interesting traditions surrounding gift-giving on this holiday. To bring good luck and fortune, the first foot to cross your home’s threshold on New Year’s Day should be a dark-haired male, since blonde hair used to be associated with invading Vikings and their raids. This person should also bring symbolic gifts that include whiskey, coal, salt, shortbread, and black buns.

Spain

Flowers are an important item of gift in Spain and is often considered as a special gift for occasions. However, in Spain, flowers are always gifted in odd numbers, except the number 13, as it symbolizes good luck. Gifts in Spain are accepted very eagerly and are opened as soon as they are received, in a display of appreciation.

United States

Americans generally do not bring gifts to customers when meeting for the first time or as a thank-you for doing business together. Americans may, however, give gifts to coworkers, colleagues, and customers during the holiday season (late December). It is common for bosses to give gifts to executive assistants and other subordinates at this time.

When a gift is given to a person from the U.S., the giver might not receive one in return. Americans often open the gift right away, in front of the giver, so that they can see what it is and express thanks for the item.

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Reading with a Vision Impairment

They say that reading is fundamental but for many persons it’s a skill that gets harder with age and/or declining eyesight. Luckily there are products that can make enjoying your favorite book or periodical enjoyable again, even if that means a machine is reading it to you. This blog will look at the importance of reading and the many varying ways that someone can enjoy the art of reading either visually, by touch, audibly, or a combination therein. Information in this blog came from Importance And Benefits Of Reading Skills In Communication, All The Reasons to Read: It’s Important, Reading Tips For People With Low Vision, and Low vision aids for reading and daily activities.

The Importance of Reading

One of the advantages of reading is that it engages various parts of your brain. When you read, you exercise your comprehension abilities and your analytical abilities. It fires up your imagination and stimulates the memory centers of your mind. It helps recall information as well as stabilize your emotions.

The importance of a reading habit is that it strengthens mental muscles. Reading is one of the best mental workouts there is. It’s been found that regular mental stimulation can slow down and possibly even prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Reading keeps the mind agile and young.

In other words, reading can help expand your mind, helps with creative thinking, improves concentration, helps you gain a greater perspective, can help you destress, give you a sense of belonging, can be a great conversation starter, and can help increase your vocabulary.

Types of Devices to Help with Reading with Low Vision

Approximately 3.22 million people in the United States have a visual impairment. For people with a visual impairment, reading is often one of the most difficult challenges. Many people with low vision stop reading altogether, because what used to be an effortless and enjoyable activity now requires preparation and a lot of adjustment.

There are many low vision devices that can make reading easier and more rewarding for people with macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, tunnel vision and other low vision conditions.

Low Vision Devices for Reading

1. Reading Magnifier

The most used visual aid for reading is a hand-held magnifier.  In the correct power, magnifiers allow people with low vision to read labels, oven dials, and the text on medicine bottles. There are different kinds of magnifiers, including small pocket magnifiers, full-page illuminated magnifiers, and magnifiers that are mounted on adjustable stands.

2. Video Magnifier

While traditional optical magnifiers, such as magnifying glasses, are generally helpful, some people benefit more from a video magnifier.

A video magnifier, or closed-circuit television (CCTV), has a camera that transmits magnified images (up to 50x or higher) and displays them on a large monitor or TV screen.

3. Portable Electronic Magnifiers

A portable electronic magnifier resembles an iPad or tablet. By holding this device in front of reading material, you can view the magnified version on its LED screen.

4. High-Power Reading Glasses

Strong magnifying reading eyeglasses enable a person with severe visual impairment to read fine print.

5. Tele-Microscopic Glasses

Tele-microscopic lenses are mounted on top of eyeglass lenses and may be prescribed for one or both eyes. They allow people with low vision to read, write, use a computer, and perform other tasks at a comfortable distance.

6. Text to voice devices.

There are a range of devices available, like the OrCam Read that can recognize text from books, phone screens, computer monitors, and more and can convert that text to computer voice. There are also apps (such as Audible) that can be added to smart devices which can read a multitude of material out loud to you.

Non-optical, “Adaptive” Low vision Aids

For the visually impaired, something as simple as checking the time on their watch or being able to see the difference between a one-dollar bill and a ten-dollar bill can become a difficult chore.

In addition to low vision devices, inexpensive non-optical adaptive aids can assist with routine daily activities. These devices include:

  • Large-print cookbooks
  • Large-numbered playing cards, clocks, telephones, and watches
  • Electronic “talking” clocks, kitchen timers, thermometers, blood pressure meters and even pill bottles
  • Large felt-tip pens and wide-lined paper for writing notes
  • Wallets that separate different bill denominations into different pockets
  • Color-coded pill boxes
  • Voice-recording electronic organizers
  • Signature guides

ILA has close to 200 products available for purchase that can enhance your ability to read/hear what has been written. These items range from lighting, magnified reading glasses, and large print items to more advance electronic devices such as CCTVs, portable magnifiers, and computers. To see everything in this broad category on their website click on reading.

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