Christmas foods & drinks

I'm sure a lot of people have very specific foods they associate with Christmas, but I don't. At least, not so much as far as actual meals are concerned. Sure, my family might have a big turkey dinner on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (or both), but that's just biting on Thanksgiving. (Though I can totally dig the fact that the traditional big Christmas dinner is more important in countries that don't celebrate Thanksgiving, as we do here in America.) Anyway, we might just as well have ham instead of (or in addition to) turkey. Or any number of other things. Yeah, most of the food is stuff I associate more with Thanksgiving, and really I don't care what we eat at Christmastime. I like the meals well enough, but for me they've never been one of the focal points of Christmas. (Probably there are plenty of people in my extended family who feel differently about this.)

But there are some things, especially sweets, that I do associate with Christmas. (Some are specifically gifts I or others in my family have received, and some are just things we have set out for anyone to eat at any time.) It's long been common for the men in my family to receive cans of mixed nuts as Christmas gifts, though I usually don't receive these, for some reason. And it's common for everyone to receive chocolates (especially boxes of Russell Stover). And then there are lots of ordinary things like M+Ms, Hershey's kisses, mini Reese's peanut butter cups, etc., sitting around in bowls or jars or whatever. (Though these things may be special holiday varieties.)

Of course, there are lots of things I'm probably forgetting completely, and lots of things I've never even had, some things I've never even heard of, that others associate with Christmas. So for a more complete list, check Wikipedia.


Candy canes
I don't suppose I need to say anything about this; candy canes are a pretty universal symbol of Christmas.

Chex Party Mix
These days you can buy lots of different varieties of Chex party mix in bags, and they're all fine and dandy. But it's not nearly as good as homemade Chex party mix. I associate the stuff Mom (and in more recent years, my sister Beth) makes with the entire holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year, but mostly with Christmas. (Of course, it can and should be made at any time of year, but it is an essential part of the holiday season.) Seriously, it is nearly impossible to stop eating that stuff until either it's gone or you explode, whichever comes first. (Note, the site I've linked to has a microwave recipe, but the stuff we have is baked.)

Chocolate coins
My sister and I usually got little mesh bags full of gold and/or silver foil-wrapped coins in our stockings. That was pretty neat. Then for years and years, it seems I never saw them around. In more recently years I've seen them in some stores, and one of these days I should think about buying some, for the sake of nostalgia.

Christmas cookies
We've often had various kinds of cookies at Christmas, mostly home-baked sugar cookies cut into holiday shapes, and decorated with sprinkles, colored sugar crystals, silver nonpareils, etc. Also spritz cookies. And some store-bought cookies, especially tins of Danish butter cookies from Royal Dansk. Of course, some of these cookies we may have had at other times of year, as well.

Christmas pud
This is a later tradition, which I think started after my Uncle Alan married Aunt Brenda. She liked making various things, especially British things. And it was always neat to see rum get poured over this and then have the pudding lit on fire, with the lights turned out. And of course it tastes pretty good, too.

This is something I don't have any nostalgic memories of. I don't think we had it often, possibly not ever. But the media has always been full of jokes about how bad it is, how people get it as gifts and then just regift it year after year, til it's hard as a rock, or whatever. I have no experience with that, but I'm sure I was always curious about whether it was really that bad. And whether someone in my family eventually bought one, or I else I never had one until I bought it myself, I did eventually try it. And it's a bit odd, but I definitely like it, and I think the tradition other people have of mocking fruitcake is kind of unfair.

Gingerbread houses
I don't have any specific memory of building gingerbread houses when I was younger, but I was probably vaguely aware of the tradition, and it's quite possible I did make one (or consume one) as a kid. It's also possible that the first time I ever actually had one was in 1999, when I was 24... but I don't want to think about that year. Still, I do think gingerbread houses are a pretty neat idea.

Mince pie
We may have any number of different types of pies at Christmas, or at any time of year. Pumpkin is probably my favorite, though it's one of those things that I associate more with Thanksgiving. Mince, on the other hand... well, I'm not sure. It's probably something we've had at various times of year, including Thanksgiving, but I noticed it while browsing Wikipedia's list of Christmas foods, and I thought hey... maybe we did usually have that at Christmas. I think it's been years now since I've had it at all, but I do know that early on, I kind of hated mince pies. But eventually I think I developed a bit of a taste for them. Still far from a favorite, but they're not bad. So I should try to have one again someday.

This isn't something with which I have a strong Christmas association, but I do vaguely recall trying to make popcorn strings to use as Christmas tree decorations when I was younger. Because it has such an old-fashioned feel to it, and I've always liked old-fashioned feels. But it's kind of more trouble than it's worth, especially when popcorn is just so good to eat. Another vague association is receiving tins of popcorn as Christmas presents. Certainly stores sell a lot of these things, and some of the tins can be pretty cool. But they're also fairly bulky and hard to store, and at some point there's just nothing to put into them. It doesn't make a lot of sense to collect tins if you don't have stuff to put in them after you've eaten the popcorn. Besides which, I'm not wild about the popcorn that actually comes in the tins. It's okay, but there's just way too much of it. Especially the caramel popcorn, which is my least favorite of the three varieties (butter, cheese, and caramel) that typically come in these tins. It's odd, because caramel is one of my favorite things in life, and I do like caramel popcorn if it's part of a snack mix (like Cracker Jack), but on its own, not so much. Unfortunately, if you get a three-flavor tin, it's going to be mostly caramel popcorn. But what is good is to get a spoon and a jar of peanut butter, and scoop up caramel popcorn with a PB-covered spoon. Oh yeah. Ahem, but its really not all that Christmasy.

Ribbon candy
This is something my grandmother always sets out around Christmas. It's something I've always liked the idea of more than I liked the thing itself, but it's not bad. And just seeing it feels nostalgic.

Old-fashioned Christmas candy (aka cut rock hard candy)
I had completely forgotten about this, until I found it on the internet while googling ribbon candy. But now that I've seen pictures of it on various websites, I totally remember Grandma having bowls of the stuff, too. And I probably liked it more than ribbon candy, even if I found it less memorable.

Strawberry hard candy
I think Grandma was more likely to have bowls of these set out around Christmas, but I could be mistaken. (I'm not sure what brand they were, and I couldn't find a Wikipedia page for them, so I linked to the first site Google turned up that had a picture that looked kind of like what I remember.)

Peanut brittle
This is something I'm even more iffy about whether we were more likely to have at Christmas than other times of year. But I feel like we might have been.

Peppermint bark
I'm not even sure how long this has existed, but I don't think it's something I was aware of until the late 90s or early 00s. But it's really good. When I first heard of it, it seems like it was kind of hard to find, outside of upscale stores or catalogs, but now you can find it anywhere, and there are countless variations, and various familiar candies that have started coming in peppermint bark varieties. And in 2014, I had some peppermint bark tea from Republic of Tea, which was awesome. (That company also makes various other good holiday teas.)

Terry's Chocolate Orange
This is a thing I don't think I'd ever seen or heard of until probably sometime in the late 90s or early 00s. But apparently it was first introduced in 1931... five years after the Chocolate Apple, which is really weird, because I definitely never saw or heard of that until several years after the orange. Anyway, it's pretty fun to whack the thing on a table before unwrapping it and eating slices of chocolate. It was probably something I received as a Christmas gift for a few years, and probably bought for myself for a few years. But it seems like it was a bit of a fad, which has cooled off a bit. But it's still something I'll get once in a while... whether at Christmas or any other time of year.


Celestial Seasonings holiday teas
Maybe I should have a heading for Republic of Tea's various holiday teas, but that's not nearly as important to me (and certainly not nostalgic) as Celestial Seasonings. I'm not quite sure when they started making holiday teas, but I think I first became aware of them in the late 80s or early 90s. My favorites were always Nutcracker Sweet and Sugar Plum Spice. I think their other holiday teas came in later years, and I tried some of them, but I never cared for them as much as those first two. Alas, it's been a few years since I've been able to find them in stores, but I'm sure I'll get them again someday (even if I have to order them online).

Cranberry ginger ale
This is something I think we started getting probably in the late 90s or so. I mainly associate it with Thanksgiving, but it's available throughout the holiday season, and everyone in my family loves it, so both my mom and sister will buy as much of it as they can, as long as they can find it. So we certainly have some for Christmas, too. I think in the early years, it was just Canada Dry that made cranberry ginger ale, but later on some other brands might have started, too. And not just ginger ale, but other things like Sierra Mist. And it's a lot easier to find such things these days than it once was, since they've grown in popularity. In fact I'm not even sure it's just the holiday season that it's available anymore, but it might be. That's certainly still when we're most likely to have cranberry ginger ale (or cranberry soda of whatever kind).

This is something we probably have almost every year, starting around Thanksgiving, though I do associate it more with Christmas and even New Year. When I was younger, we always got it in round cans, but these days we're more likely to get it in cartons. Anyway, it's an acquired taste which some people will never acquire, but I like it. I also remember when I was younger, we'd almost always sprinkle nutmeg on it, but we rarely bother with that anymore. Probably because we're all too lazy to look for nutmeg, since our spices aren't as well organized as they once were. Of course, eggnog can come in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. I much more often have it without alcohol, but I have occasionally had it with. I know some people will mix alcohol into it themselves, but I'd prefer to buy it pre-mixed in bottles. Although there are also different types of alcohol which may be mixed into it, and some of those I will really dislike, so... I have to be careful to get something I do like. Except that I can never remember for sure what I do or don't like. (Rum is probably the safest bet.)

Samuel Adams winter mixpack
The official name for this seems to change sometimes, like "Winter Classics" or "Winter Favorites," or whatever. But I think it's safe to just call it a mixpack. In years past, my favorite variety in this pack was Cranberry Lambic (which isn't technically a lambic, but it tastes like one). Alas, they seem to add new varieties to the mixpack every year, which means they occasionally have to stop including older varieties. And it has been several years now since the winter mixpack included Cranberry Lambic, and I've never seen it sold separately. So I really miss that (though I know some people hated it). My second favorite variety (which luckily is still included in the pack) is Old Fezziwig Ale, though my fondness for it is as much because of the name as the flavor itself. (Old Fezziwig, of course, is a character in the classic story "A Christmas Carol.") As for the other varieties, like the more recent "White Christmas" and Winter Lager, they're fine. The Chocolate Bock is okay, though it's a bit too heavy or sweet or whatever, so it's hard for me to drink much of that, or even much of the other varieties after drinking a bottle of that. And I really don't know why Sam Adams has to include their Boston Lager in all of their seasonal mixpacks, at every time of year. I like it, sure, but it's not seasonal. It's year round. If I want it, it is easy to come by. When I buy a seasonal mixpack, I want seasonal varieties, and that's just taking up space that could be held by something else. (Like Cranberry Lambic, dammit.) Still, Christmas wouldn't quite feel like Christmas without having a Sam Adams winter mixpack sometime in December.

tek's Winter Holidays page