When you think of holidays, you inevitably think of favourite foods associated with those holidays. Let’s play a quick game of word association. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you read the following words? Pumpkin pie, figgy pudding, apples dipped in honey, and cake. What popped up for you, when you read those words? Maybe, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, and birthdays?

We associate many food items with celebratory occasions, which often include family and friends. Here are five holiday food traditions and their significance to the holiday.


  1. Candy Canes

According to Collins’s 2003 book Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas, church records indicate that as far back as the 1600s, churches may have popularized candy canes as a way to quiet children singing in choirs during long church services. A German choirmaster asked a candy maker to bend peppermint sticks to resemble a shepherd’s crook to teach the children stories of the Bible. It appears that the red and white striped candy canes we see today weren’t created until the 1920s, whereas the original candy cane was white.


  1. Latkes

In Judaism, latkes have particular meaning during the holiday, Hanukkah. Latkes are shredded potato pancakes that are traditionally fried in oil. The oil has significance as it reflects oil found during the liberation of a temple in Jerusalem from religious oppressors. In the temple, the small amount of oil needed to light the menorah was thought to burn for only one night, but in fact it miraculously burned for 8 nights allowing the Maccabees to collect more oil for the celebration.


  1. Bûche de Noël (Yule Log)

Traditions of the Yule log trace back to the Celts celebrating the winter solstice. To celebrate the shortest day of the year, they would gather logs from the forest to burn. The celebration became more elaborate in the middle ages, with the logs being decorated with ribbons and burned in fireplaces. As wood-burning stoves became more commonplace, burning the log diminished and the celebration further evolved as French bakers created a Yule Log cake in the late 1800s. A traditional Bûche de Noël is rolled, filled sponge cake made to resemble a log, iced with buttercream and decorated with marzipan, candy and other edible decorations.


  1. Noon Berenj

While Persian new year (Nowruz) isn’t until spring (March 20), the food traditions include many sweets, including Noon Berenj, which is a rice flour-based thumbprint cookie topped with poppy seeds. It is a time of renewal, cleaning and looking ahead to a new year, so there are often many foods with fresh herbs, spinach and eggs.


  1. Mazoa

Mazoa isn’t so much a food itself, but a collection of fruit and vegetables set in a bowl on the table during the celebration of Kwanzaa to honour the people who work to grow the food. It symbolizes a bountiful harvest and is to be shared by all those around the table. The fruit and vegetables tend to include those that are common to sub-Saharan Africa, and the Caribbean, including yams, okra, bananas and squash. While the food served during Kwanzaa varies greatly, the holiday really symbolizes the notion of community.

Whether you celebrate today or months from now, I wish you peace, happiness and pleasure from the food you eat.


-Samantha, Nutrition Detective




Collins, A. (2003). Stories Behind The Great Traditions Of Christmas. http://www.acecollins.com/books/traditions.html