My entire life I’ve been amazed by the incredible country we live in - The United States of America. I am a lifelong supporter of our government and feel blessed to enjoy the freedoms that have been fought for and won by brave men and women. I have had an opportunity to travel across this country and witness the unique majesty of each state that I’ve visited. As a Colorado resident however, I might be biased. I live in what could be the most stunning state in the union! Today I’m looking out at the snow-capped ridge of Pikes Peak mountain, thrust up into a pure blue sky, and my breath is literally taken away. God certainly broke out the big brushes when he created this land.
While a miracle in its own right, the beauty and diversity of our landscape isn’t what impresses me most. It’s people that make up the true identity of any country. We in the United States are one of the most diverse and eclectic mixes of any group on earth. People are attracted here from every corner of the globe seeking the freedoms we’re privileged to enjoy and the ideals upon which this country was founded. Everyone brings with them their own history and culture, contributing in part to what the world has come to know as “American.”
At no time of the year is this rich cultural diversity more evident than at Christmas. As one journeys from state-to-state and visits different communities you’ll see many different ways that we, as Americans, celebrate this important holiday. One of the most intriguing and delectable parts of different Christmas traditions are the foods that take center stage at family celebrations.
In New England many families serve Lumberjack Pie, a mashed potato crust, filled with meat, onions, and cinnamon. Yum. Areas of North Carolina feature Moravian Love-Feast Buns, a faintly sweet bread of flour and mashed potatoes. Can’t you just smell them?
Other regions favor completely different flavors. Louisiana loves its Creole Gumbo. Many southern states plate-up Hominy Grits Soufflé. In New Mexico, Empanadas are all the rage. These small beef pies are filled with applesauce, pine nuts and raisins and are both savory and sweet - a little present for the mouth!
People often look at me funny when I share about my family’s holiday food tradition. We are mostly of Latin American decent, so some of our most distinct traditions come from those countries. Our Christmas food fiasco starts weeks before the holiday itself. Women from the family gather at my mother and father’s house. They break out pots, pans, and utensils of enormous proportions that are not seen any other time of the year. (I wonder where these behemoths hibernate between holidays?)
The brigade initiates preparation of the signature dish by combining portions of lard and cornmeal, then stirring for hours to get the mix (called “masa”) to the right consistency. Once the masa is ready, thereal work begins. Participants create an assembly line as-if in a manufacturing plant. After all, they’ll be making no less than 100 full servings!
On fresh banana leaves they’ll place a generous dollop of masa, add some “special secret” red sauce (prepared in the giant pans mentioned earlier), a healthy portion of seasoned pork, and cap it off with green olives and capers. They fold the leaves together to encase the mound of deliciousness and wrap the bundle in aluminum foil before placing them into a giant steamer.
Each person involved is responsible for an important part of the final product. I know if my sister is on “meat duty” she will put more meat in each one. Come to think of it, whatever my sister is in charge of gets more of her component! Without fail, each year Dad comes in to observe the process mentioning how much he likes a lot of capers in his serving. Maybe he’ll be lucky and my sister will be at the capers station.
These family creations are cooked and stored until Christmas Eve. At the stroke of midnight they are served, piping hot, with refried black beans. Everyone eats their fill of the world’s best tamales and then gifts are passed out to everyone in attendance.
As a child I didn’t really like the tamales. I ate them out of obligation, not out of love. Now as a father with a family myself, living half way across the country from my own parents, I look forward to the care package from my Mom every Christmas. She freezes homemade tamales in a small ice cooler and ships them to me. We carry on the tradition with our family here in Colorado, making some beans and sharing this special meal with our kids. Someday I hope they’ll cherish memories of this unique family tradition as I do.
This is a perfect example of what makes our country so amazing. Families like yours and mine are free to give our children a rich and unique heritage of love that will last a lifetime. As parents, in addition to passing along traditions of food and fun we also seek to instill a legacy of faith! Whether you grew up in a house of faith or are a first generation believer, the true blessing of this holiday season is the blessing of a savior.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
Here at Need Project we want to salute you and your family. And in this most blessed Christmas season, whether you’re going to enjoy Hawaiian Teriyaki Turkey or Pennsylvania Dutch Sand Tarts, I pray it is a rich time of celebrating the greatest gift we have been given, Jesus Christ.