Holidays are often steeped in traditions passed down through generations. Whether it’s lighting a Menorah, decorating a Christmas tree, cooking family recipes, bringing in the new year with a kiss or making a champagne toast on Valentine’s Day, the memories made always have some hallmarks of the past.
I visited with four women, diverse in age, occupations and family dynamics, who were delighted to share their holiday traditions with Charleston Women. Perhaps you will see a little of your own family in these traditions or discover the ideas you’ve been looking to add to your special occasions.
Christmas With an Artist
Local artist Judy Haas paints a multitude of different subjects, be it still life or nature flying right off the canvas. However, Christmas decorations and wall hangings are some of her most favorite ways to get creative.
When she and her husband were raising their two sons in their much larger home in Indiana, they decorated not one, but seven Christmas trees. When the oldest son married and moved to Dallas, he took all seven trees with him, complete with decorations. Talk about continuing traditions.
The family also always made Christmas cookies, which expanded into gingerbread houses made of graham crackers, icing and candies when the grandchildren came along. Moreover, among the hosts of Christmas fare, Haas’ grandmother’s date pudding became a family staple that the family has agreed to share with our readers.
Her maternal grandmother passed down the recipe — and being a fan of dates and nuts myself — I surely will be making this one.
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 egg
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup chopped nuts
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup chopped dates
- ¾ cup water
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
Pour one cup of hot water over one cup of pitted and chopped dates. Add one teaspoon of baking soda and let cool. Mix the sugar, butter, egg, flour, salt, baking powder and chopped nuts together. Add the date mixture and stir well. Grease and flour baking pan. Bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees. For the topping, heat brown sugar, dates, water and vanilla extract in a saucepan until blended. Pour mixture over the pudding, let cool and serve.
From the editor: Our source for the Hanukkah traditions has asked that her name be omitted from the article due to the conflicts currently going on in Israel. That, in itself, leaves us all something to reflect and meditate upon. However, we at Charleston Women, felt the tradition of Hanukkah and our source’s cookie recipe should still be shared, perhaps with an importance stronger than ever in the current climate where some individuals have experienced antisemitism. The Holy city was founded as a safe place where all faiths could practice in the American South from its beginnings, in which we are proud.
Hanukkah means “rededication,” and it is the festival that celebrates the rededication of the second temple. In that dedication, some oil was found, thought to be only enough to burn for one day. However, a miracle occurred, and it burned for eight days. Hence, Hanukkah, or the “Festival of Lights” is eight days long, which is why Jewish children receive a gift on each of the eight days. It reminds those who practice Judaism to rededicate themselves to keeping the flame of Jewish religion, culture and its people alive in order to pass on to future generations.
Traditions that occur in the celebration of Hanukkah:
- Lighting of the Menorah: A nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day celebration.
- Playing the dreidel game and singing the dreidel song: A dreidel is a four-sided, spinning top. On each side is a Hebrew letter: Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin, which means “a great miracle happened there.” After spinning, the player follows the directions on how many coins or candies to take. Children often play the game utilizing chocolate coins wrapped in gold or silver wrappers. Once someone has collected all, the game is over.
- Mensch on a Bench: This toy is similar to “elf on a shelf.” Jewish children play with Mensch on a Bench and read the book. It depicts Moshe the Mensch and is designed to inspire children to be honorable and to have integrity.
- Traditional Hanukkah foods: Eating latkes (a potato pancake) and Hanukkah cookies are also Hannukah staples. We have shared Vinick’s cookie recipe below.
- 2 sticks butter or margarine
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 ½ cups flour
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- Colored sugar (blue is best)
Blend all ingredients except for the flour, adding it a cup at a time (just enough to roll the dough). Use Hanukkah-shaped cookie cutters: stars of David, menorahs and dreidels to shape. Decorate with traditional blue sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.
Flowertown Bed & Breakfast owner and Innkeeper Carol Grant celebrates each new year with both her family and guests by serving a delicious traditional meal that southerners love.
Prior to the feast, the family always gathers on New Year’s Eve to watch “Gone with the Wind” while snacking on popcorn and champagne. However, on New Year’s Day, Grant serves the traditional meal of pork, Hoppin’ John and collard greens. According to legendary southern food researcher John Egerton’s “Southern Food: At Home, On the Road to History,” black-eyed peas are associated with a “mystical and mythical power to bring good luck.” As for collard greens, they are green like money and will ensure you a financially prosperous new year. Be sure to warn your guests if you place a penny or a dime inside the pot of peas. The most fortune is given to the one lucky enough to receive the coin!
See a favorite Hoppin’ John recipe below.
- 1 smoked ham hock
- 1 medium onion
- 6 cups water
- 1 cup long grain white rice (or Carolina Gold)
- 1 cup dried black-eyed peas
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- Dash of pepper
Wash and sort the peas. Place them in a saucepan. Add water. Gently boil the peas with the pepper, ham hock and onion, uncovered until tender but not mushy (about 1 ½ hours). Add the rice. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, never lifting the lid. Remove from the heat and allow to steam, still covered, for another 10 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff with a fork and serve.