by Kimberly Blackford
From the architecture, to the climate, to the customs, the beauty of America is the differences that can be found from region to region. Just think how different is it living in Hawaii as opposed to New England? That is what makes this great country so unique. The same goes for Christmas from region to region. What may seem strange for a Southerner may be perfectly common in California. But, that doesn’t mean one tradition or custom is better than another. Let’s take a look around America and see how regions celebrate in similar ways and what sets each area apart from the others.
Surrounded in beautiful tall pines and mountains certainly makes for a picturesque background for any Christmas tradition or holiday menu in the Pacific Northwest. Not surprising, Oregon and Washington grow more Christmas trees than any other area in the United States. And, with all that rainy weather, Pacific Northwesterners love going to the movies more than any other area in the United States as their favorite holiday tradition.
When it comes to their holiday menu, they love using food that is specific to their area including salmon, which is indigenous to this region. Whether it is fresh or smoked, salmon is a common dish served throughout the holiday season as well as given as gifts. The same goes for apples, which are often incorporated into stuffing or used in cakes and pies as dessert.
Just south of the rainy Pacific Northwest is sunny and bright California, which may seem hardly spirited during the holiday season. Most people think of cold and snow all through the winter, not sunshine and cheerful days on end. And, for those who don’t live in California, most Americans prefer not to be in a warmer climate during the holiday season. But, for those who do live there, they would prefer nothing else. And, surprisingly, their favorite pastime during the holidays is cooking and baking. So, regardless of the weather, Californians are doing what we all do this time of year and spending their holiday season in the heart of the home, the kitchen.
When it comes to their holiday menu, they stick with many fresh locally grown products such as mangoes, avocados, artichokes and turkey. But, there is also a Hispanic influence, so tamales and fish tacos were also popular favorites. Beyond the shores of California lies Hawaii where they enjoy cooking turkey teriyaki style in a luau setting.
Another area of the country where Spanish influence is prominent is the Southwest. American, Native American and Mexican cuisines merge and create a perfect blend of unique holiday traditions. When it comes to holiday and winter traditions, those that live in the Southwest love to build snowmen and play in the snow. Unfortunately for many parts of this area, snow is not commonly found except in the higher elevations. But for those who have snow, be sure to spot many snowmen in yards everywhere!
Southwesterners might not want to admit it, but in a poll conducted by allrecipes.com, they actually enjoy fruitcake and would like to receive one as a gift during the holidays. So, for all of you with relatives scattered throughout Texas, Arizona or New Mexico, check these relatives off your list when figuring out their Christmas gift.
Some popular choices for the holiday spread in the Southwest include flavors and ingredients inspired by Mexico. These include green chilis, blue corn muffins, tamales, empanadas, pozole and caramel flan to name a few.
As we work our way across the country, we have now found ourselves in the Midwest, known as America's Heartland. Known for being a melting pot of cultures, this can be seen in the types of traditions and cuisines celebrated in this area of the United States. European and Scandinavian cultures predominant here, so there is a strong influence from Europe in the types of traditions and food selections that are made for Christmas dinner. These include lefse (Norwegian potato flatbread), stollens, lasagna, sausages and other European food items. Interestingly enough, the Midwest is the only region that prefers to serve ham for the holiday meal rather than turkey. Perhaps this is a result of the large amount of farms in the area and the availability of pork locally.
Popular holiday food items of today still include ham, but also include prime rib, candied yams, creamed corn, cranberries and Danish Kringles, which are similar to German style stollens. Also, for dessert, Midwesterners will be sure to bake a large batch of gingerbread cookies.
There’s nothing like a down-home Southern Christmas where the food is delicious and the atmosphere laid-back. Southerners claim they like to wait to do their holiday shopping until after Thanksgiving so they can enjoy one holiday at a time. This may also be because they are blessed with better weather than many areas of the United States, which are plagued with snow and ice this time of year. So, waiting until the last minute does not cause panic for those who live in the South. Southerners love to cook both turkey and ham for their special holiday dinner and enjoy finishing their meal with cakes and cookies rather than pie like the rest of the nation typically enjoys.
Today, Southerners fill their holiday table with deep fried turkey, honey-glazed ham, candy-coated pecans, collard greens, grits, sweet potatoes, crawfish, Creole Gumbo and Whiskey cake.
Something about a Northeast setting screams Christmas. With its old, windy cobblestone streets, antique style buildings and old-fashioned architecture, many cities and town spread throughout the Northwest look like they’ve been plucked from a Charles Dickens novel. From New York to Maine, New England traditions are what form the basis of American holiday traditions and menus for the entire rest of the country.
When it comes to the New England holiday table, both turkey and ham are favored, with turkey being just a bit more popular all around. Other popular foods include Lumberjack Pie (similar to Shepherd’s Pie), oyster stew, lobster, clam chowder, oyster dressing, mulled wine and both plum pudding and mincemeat pie for dessert.
As you can see, Americans are blessed to have a multitude of flavors, ethnic groups and backgrounds making each region of our country not just unique and one-of-a-kind at Christmas time, but all year long.
What you cook, how you decorate your home, and the traditions that make the holidays special to you and your family are a direct result of the cultures that surround you each and every day. Share your special cuisine, traditions and style with all those around you and offer others a chance to enjoy Christmas the same way you and your family does.
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