By Christina Katz
While you are gathering everyone together for holiday adventures, why not introduce some new cultural experiences? While traditions can be comforting during the darker months, introducing variety into your holiday routines can spice up future memories.
1. Carry some green into the gloom. Most people are familiar with the Christmas tradition of bringing cut trees and evergreen branches into homes as a symbol of the anticipation of earth’s re-greening after winter. Why not visit a tree farm this year, even if you have a plastic tree? You could always bring home a less-than-perfect tree and deconstruct it into boughs to deck your halls.
2. Try a taste of Hanukkah. If you have never made fresh potato pancakes, your family is in for a treat! Latkes are traditional fare during Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. The story of Hanukkah involves lantern oil miraculously lasting much longer than expected, which is why oil-centric foods are featured throughout the eight days and nights of this holiday.
Potato Latke Recipe
¼-inch vegetable oil for frying
2 cups coarsely grated baking potatoes, peeled
3 large eggs
1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon grated onions
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
Tips: Wrap grated potatoes in a clean dishtowel and squeeze as much moisture out of them as you can. You may also substitute up to a half cup of another grated root vegetable for potatoes. If so, squeeze the moisture out of them, as well.
Directions: Put a ¼-inch layer of frying oil in a flat skillet over medium-high heat. Mix all the prepared ingredients together. Drop batter into oil in 3-inch cakes about ¼-inch thick. Fry until browned on the bottom then flip and repeat browning. If oil starts to scorch, turn it down. Pancakes should be crisp and can be kept warm in an oven on the lowest setting. Place paper towels between layers to drain. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve with organic applesauce and high-quality sour cream. Makes 12 latkes.
3. Knock on the door of enlightenment. Teaching your children how to meditate may be the single-best thing you can do to help them manage stress throughout their lives. In Japan every December 8, Buddhists celebrate the moment when the Buddha reached enlightenment. This holy day is typically observed quietly with chanting and meditation. Give meditation a try at home. Invite your kids to sit on the ground with legs comfortably crossed, back straight, eyes closed, and attention gently focused on the space just above the center of the eyebrows. Use the image of the famous Bodhi (fig) tree to help children imagine that they have roots reaching down from the base of their spines and branches reaching up into the sky from the top of their heads. Try “sitting like a tree” as a family for just five or ten minutes. I think most parents would agree that any amount of time holding completely still would constitute a small holiday miracle.
4. Banish some darkness from the world. In India, Diwali, a five-day holiday of lights, usually happens in the middle of autumn, but the generous spirit of this holiday is perfect for families to imitate throughout December. Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. Coming up with a way to celebrate this holiday gives families a unique opportunity to discuss real suffering throughout the world. When approached with a problem-solving slant, even very young children can feel inspired to help other children who lack adequate food, clothing, or shelter. Help kids understand that some of the most concerning problems can be soothed when approached with a helpful, compassionate attitude.
5. Sparkle up your feast. Most winter holidays and festivals have two things in common: lighting up the space and feasting. Why not create a focus on both of these traditions on the Winter Solstice, the shortest, darkest day of the year? Choose one spot in your home, like a fireplace hearth, and gather all of your candles around it for an impactful display. Or scatter little lights and candles throughout a room or even throughout an entire floor of your home. When it’s time to eat, turn off most of the lights inside and enjoy your evening meals in the glimmer. Nothing turns up the winter magic like relaxing into the almost darkness.
Christina Katz wants to live in a world where all cultures and traditions are embraced and enjoyed. You can learn more about her at ChristinaKatz.com.