Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Traditions

Chris in 1954- Amesbury, Massachusetts
Every family passes along those Christmas traditions- open the gifts on Christmas Eve, open the gifts on Christmas Day, white elephants, gift swaps, name pulls.... and it goes on and on. But Christmas food traditions are pretty interesting. In my mother's family it was always hot oyster stew on Christmas Eve. This came from her father's side of the family and I began to wonder why.

After a thorough search of the internet I had no clear answers and apparently lots of people wondered the same thing. I found the question asked and answered in a million different ways. Some said it comes from the Feast of Seven Fishes where Catholics avoided meat on certain feast days. Somehow in Anglo-Protestant America this origin became quietly obscured. Some say the Irish brought it with them substituting oysters for the traditional ling fish. Others had the origins in Germany. My mother's family was not Catholic or Irish or German. They were Yankee, Protestant and went back in New England to coastal Maine and Cape Cod. Chances are good it was a practical decision. Oysters were cheap and plentiful. Christmas, the next day, was an occasion for a big holiday meal. It would make sense to have the somewhat lighter meal of stew the night before. My family was in good company. In the December 23, 1931 edition of the Fitchburg Sentinel I found this:
Brockelmans was a popular Fitchburg grocery vendor of the time and this was a thinly disguised advertisement. 39¢ a pint is a great price for New England oysters. I paid considerably more for mine.
One thing I did find in my search is that while oyster stew was a tradition in many families all over the country, the commenters were evenly divided between the oyster lovers and the oyster haters. After years of oyster stew, the tradition quietly died among the haters and new food traditions were born. My brother is one of the haters. I however, will make my stew, thinking of my mom as I do and upholding the family tradition for just a little bit longer.

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