Advent Calendar Day 19: Holidays are: food and family by Robin Rivera

door sign, flowers,

Holidays are: food and family by Robin Rivera

My paternal grandmother made her own tortillas everyday. Although she died of breast cancer when I was only nine, the thing I remember best is her cooking, she kept us well-fed. But it wasn’t always that way, my father told stories about all the nights he went to bed hungry as a child. It must have killed my grandmother not to be able to feed her children. Maybe that was way she felt so committed to feeding her grandkids and to making everything we ate from scratch.

My mother knew own her share of hardships. She told us about how all the aunts and uncles would gather during the holidays to pool their money. That wanted to make sure all children in the family and a few sweets under the tree and a feast on the table. My parents never forgot the modest resources of their childhoods, and food was never wasted. It was also the way we celebrated every holiday. The arrival of unusual and expensive foods in the pantry signaled the approach of a special day. And it was always followed by strict instructions not to touch the treats because they were for Christmas (New Year’s, Easter, a birthday) dinner.

It’s food much more than gifts that I remember from my childhood Christmases. There never was much money for fancy toys, not with four kids in the family; we got socks, coats, handmade scarves and bikes to ride to school in the springtime. Things we needed, rather than things we necessary wanted. Yet, I don’t remember feeling sad about not getting the toys everyone else got. I’m sure I must have missed them at the time, but when everyone, family, friends, neighbors packed around the table and the air smelled of everything delicious in the world to eat, it’s hard to stay sad for long.

Our Christmas meals would go on forever! There was always one more dish coming out of the kitchen, and more friends knocking at the door. Each time you thought nothing more could fit on, or around the table another arrival would require us to shove a clear spot and receive a spoonful (or a hug) before the party could resume. We talked and laughed, and I would tuck my cold toes up onto my eldest sister’s legs so she would keep them warm. As the youngest person in my family, it was a stunt that always bugged her, except on Christmas when she gave me a bit more leeway and let my feet stay in her lap. At some point my mother would always find a gift tucked away on a shelf in the kitchen, something she forgot to slip under the tree that morning. We paused to watch the lucky person rip off the paper and show us the final present of the year.

When we felt like we were bursting, my mother announced the dishes could wait for morning, and we would drift into the living room. The fireplace blazed and my father played his guitar. We sang or joined in with other interments; one of my uncles played the mandolin like an angel. Later a surprise dessert appeared, along with pots filled with steaming spicy coco and coffee. We ate our last course in the living room, a privilege we didn’t enjoy the rest of the year. The pie or cake was served on bone china plates with these darling pastry forks we almost never got to use. It was a warm and happy evening. With smiles on our faces, and tree light twinkling, we kids would fall asleep on the sofas or the rug in front of the fire, seldom in our beds. We didn’t want the night to ever end.

Now that I’m the mom, I understand the level of commitment, and just plain old fashioned hard work that went into these magical Christmas parties. I have been stocking my house with holiday supplies since the end of November. I’ve planned menus and baked all manner of goodies. Soon it will be time for all my cooking to fill the table for my kids to enjoy. They will have more under the tree then I ever had, but hopeful it is the celebration, and the joy of being together as a family they will remember. As I get older, I understand the value of these meals. My parents were giving me memories, and that’s a gift that last much longer than expensive clothing or toys ever will.

About the Author:
Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She is half the blog “team” of Write On Sisters and writes dark young adult fiction with diverse characters. You can friend her on Facebook ( or on Goodreads ( However, Pinterest ( is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

15 thoughts on “Advent Calendar Day 19: Holidays are: food and family by Robin Rivera

  1. Food was also always very important at home for Mother and myGrand-Mothers and so on. Now that I am a mother by proxy to my “Girls” (my two wards), I understand how much food is the concrete way to show love. Love seems sometimes abstract but food is not as well as hugs, kisses, endearments.
    Your blog reminds me of stories I heard about not having much in your shoe (there are no socks in France but shoes under the tree) but full plates that day. One of my grand-mother used to tell us that each child had an orange in its shoes and that all oranges were collected to make a fruit salad flambée with rhum on Christmas evening as a dessert.
    And at home, we had toys but also things we needed like clothes and books. Not the things we liked best but they lasted longer that fashionable toys.
    I love your blog and the way you write it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you liked my contribution to Solveig’s wonderful calendar. My mother also told stories about receiving oranges in her shoes, but on the Epiphany. It’s funny how every family does things a bit differently, yet we overlap. Merry Christmas!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Thanks, Camille. I picked up the reference to the shoe in one of Solveig’s posts so thanks for explaining it further. I’d imagine that historically speaking eating those fresh oranges during the middle of a European Winter would have been a great source of Vitamin C. I’m Australian so our Christmases are quite different and often very hot, although it was comfortably warm this year xx Rowena


  2. This is fantastic! Christmas is meant to be about the memories: the people, the atmosphere, the happiness and joy, and perhaps even the food. As much time and effort as we put into gifts, they’re not likely to be the things people remember years later.

    I also have to commend all parents out there who do everything they can to give their children more than what they had, to bring the Christmas spirit to them, and give them the childhoods that all children deserve. I hope (whenever I have kids) that I’ll be able to do the same. ^.^

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you, Solveig! You did me a huge favor by inviting me to take part in this. It was a wonderful experience for me, and my kids loved reading about my childhood.

    Also, I tend to get sad every Christmas because my mom is gone. This was always her favorite time of the year. Yet sharing this was the perfect way to remember her and feel blessed for the years we did have together.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family! You are a delightful person, and I’m very glad we met this year.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Robin for having accepted to share your story. I am sorry that you are saddened every Christmas, but maybe it’s a good moment to remember your mother and toast to her love of Christmas.
      I wish you a very Merry Christmas as well. I am happy that we have “met” too, 2015 would not have been as much fun 🙂


  4. You are so right about the importance of rituals more than the gifts themselves. Food cooked and baked with care and love is such a wonderful gift when shared with loved ones. I grew up in a similar fashion and feel like you do, now that I am a grown-up and a mother.


  5. Food is such an important part of Christmas, one which is so easy to take for granted until the person connected with that food has passed on. Every year, my mother makes a baked ham for Christmas lunch. My aunt makes a cashew, avocado mango and bacon salad. There’s my aunt’s Plum Pudding. Another aunt makes Reindeer Bark where you crush up candy canes and sprinkle them over a layer of melted chocolate. My grandma used to make Honey Biscuits or Lebkuchen. I make my mother’s Christmas cake and shortbread every year. Sometimes, I get to making the pudding as well but the end of the year is very busy. It’s not just the food itself that’s important. It’s more the heart and the person who made it xx Rowena


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