Sure, the holidays are said to be all about the spirit of giving. But for me, they’re mostly about the joy of eating.
Coming from a half-Jewish, half-Christian family, I’ve had the delightful opportunity year after year to fill up on customary Hanukkah treats and festive Christmas sweets. During Hanukkah, I’m granted piles of latkes (crispy pillows of fried potato goodness) and mouth-watering milk chocolate gelt (coins). But my favorite food tradition of the season is my family’s annual haul of goodies from the Trader Joe’s holiday collection. Every December, our preferred grocery store puts out a wondrous array of chocolate-covered peppermint Joe-Joe cookies, caramel-filled Belgian Stroopwafels (best when warmed over a steaming cup of tea to melt the caramel), delicately spiced and powdered sugar-drenched German Pfeffernusse cookies, and buttery English toffee. The limited appearance of these coveted items warrants near-heartbreak about a week after New Year’s Day when they suddenly disappear from stores.
As if the Trader Joe’s-induced sugar coma isn’t enough during the holidays, my two older sisters’ birthdays happen to fall in December, which of course necessitates a celebratory dessert of some kind. My mom usually whips up a batch of her famous (winners of a blue ribbon at the Cannondale Grange Fair in 2016) fudgy brownies, frosting and decorating them to make a much-loved “brownie cake.” And we always have the Zabar’s holiday gift basket my grandparents send every year, complete with dense chocolate babka and raspberry rugelach, to look forward to.
When Christmas Day rolls around, my family usually follows the common Jewish custom of going out for a Chinese lunch and a movie. After sharing plates of dim sum, crispy egg rolls, and steaming noodles, we break into boxes of marzipan or finish off most of our Trader Joe’s loot. By New Year’s Eve, my parents are usually sick of all the sweets; I, on the other hand, am mourning the impending loss of my favorite candies and baked goods from grocery store shelves.
Though the holidays, at least in my case, usually seem to revolve around eating, the special ingredient that makes seasonal foods so satisfying is their ability bring people together. With three girls of very different personalities, there’s no way my family could find enough activities for “family bonding” during winter break that would please everyone. But sitting at the table for a meal together — or just snacking on Christmas cookies on the couch while watching an episode of The Great British Baking Show — gives all of us a sense of shared contentment. My best memories of Christmas and Hanukkah are not of receiving lavish gifts, but of helping my mom mix ingredients for brownies or passing around bowls of fried rice and chow fun on the 25th. So as I consume an excess of empty calories this year, I can take comfort in the knowledge that they bring me a full heart.
Chloe Mandel is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.