Monday, April 1, 2013

The Holiness of Food!

I would argue that food is among the top, simplest pleasures in life.  I would also argue that food and holidays have a strong and historical connection, thus linking people to their identity and culture.  In fact, when international students get homesick, one of the topics that often surfaces in conversations, is food, especially when it is associated with a meaningful holiday or celebration.
Religious holidays are no exception.  Food is associated with many holidays of different faiths during various times of the year.  Some of the examples include, but are not limited to:

Ramadan: an Islamic holiday focusing on prayer and fasting.  The latter is broken every night through prayer, reading of the Qu’ran and a meal called iftar.  Determined by the lunar calendar, Muslim students will start Ramadan on July 9th, 2013.  Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and during this three-day celebration Muslims celebrate, give gifts, and take part in a great feast (August 8-11, 2013).

Mabon  / Autumnal Equinox: a Pagan/Wiccan holiday celebrating the fruits of the earth and the need to share these with others to secure the blessings of the Goddess and God during winter.  It is a time for being grateful and looking inward, and dishes made with apples, pumpkins, and squash are very common (September 20-24, 2013)

Navratri: one of the major Hindu festivals, this holiday is dedicated to the deity Durga and celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
Sabudana vada - Navratri
  There are many traditions and rituals associated with Navratri, including fasting during the nine days: non-vegetarian food is completely avoided and sabudana vada, a deep-fried snack often served with spicy green chutney and hot chai, is traditionally consumed by Hindus (October 5-13, 2013). 

Christmas Tamales displayed in plantain leaves

Celebrated on December 24-25, 2013.
  Christians, Catholics, and Protestants commemorate of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Food associated with Christmas varies from country to country.  For instance, in many Central American countries it is common to consume tamales, a dish made of corn-based dough, filled with various meats, vegetables, and fruit, and wrapped in plantain leaves before they are boiled. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, Christmas is celebrated on January 7, 2014.

Chinese New Year / Spring Festival: the most important Confucian / Taoist / Buddhist holiday, this year’s celebration fell on February 10, 2013.  Families gather together, fireworks are displayed, red envelops with money are handed, and many sumptuous and traditional dishes are prepared, involving various foods (pork, chicken and fish), dumplings, fruit (mandarin oranges and melons), and sweets (niangao), among others. 

Chinese New Year Cake
Ostara / Spring Equinox: on March 20-22, Pagans and Wiccans celebrated the Spring Equinox, a time of fertility, by coloring eggs. 

Nowruz: the Persian New Year or beginning of spring and new life.  This holiday is rooted in the Zoroastrian tradition but is also relevant to Sufis, Bektashis, Ismailis, Alawites, Alevis, Babis and adherents of the Bahá'í Faith.  In Iran, a Haft Sin or offerings table is currently set including seven ingredients that start with the letter “s” of the Persian alphabet:  sabzeh (wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish, symbolizing rebirth), samanu (a sweet pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence), senjed (the dried fruit of the oleaster tree, symbolizing love), sīr (garlic, symbolizing medicine), sīb (apples, symbolizing beauty and health), somaq (sumac berries, symbolizing the color of sunrise), and serkeh (vinegar, symbolizing age and patience).  (March 21, 2013).

Pesach / Passover: this Jewish, week-long observance commemorates the freedom and exodus of the Jewish peoples from Egypt during Ramses II’s reign.  Several ritualized meals called Seders are served and the use of leavening is prohibited.  Thus, matzo is eaten in lieu of bread.  Find a delicious recipe to make matzo toffee with walnuts here! (March 26-April 2, 2013)

Empanadas de chiverre on the making!

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, and “Holly Week”:  Christian, Catholic, and Protestant holidays that commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles, the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (March 28, 29, and 31, 2013, respectively).  In general, these dates are associated with prayer, fasting and great devotion.  Meat is usually prohibited.  During Easter, colored eggs and chocolate bunnies are widely popular.  In some areas of Latin America, such as Costa Rica, this entire week is referred to as “Holly Week” and some of the most common foods are “mute” tamales (tamales with no food, usually made of beans) and chiverre empanadas, a pastry filled with sweet made from white winter squash, a great favorite of mine! If you are up to the challenge of trying to make these, here is a good and easy recipe of Costa Rican empanadas de chiverre!!

The list of holidays above is certainly not extensive.  There are many other ones that could not be included in this blog entry due to time and space constrictions.  However, if you love food as much as I do, I hope you enjoyed this entry and you learned more about delicious dishes from various traditions!


"Religion and Food." Encyclopedia of Food & Culture. Ed. Solomon H. Katz. Vol. 3. Gale Cengage, 2003. 1 Apr, 2013


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