Disclosure: I have a partnership with Whole Foods Market and was compensated for this blog, but all opinions on #MyHolidayTradish are my own!
The four siblings would be so proud. Abdo, Esse, Sadie, and Helen were born to Syrian immigrants who came to the United States via Ellis Island and settled in Detroit. They left Detroit when they were grown (my grandmother got married at age 16!) and headed to Jacksonville in the 1930s for jobs...and warmer weather. Their parents did not know English and they tried to assimilate into the American culture quickly, including the holiday customs. Each year they gathered all four of their families in Jacksonville for holidays - Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. They followed the American customs, but mixed in their own Syrian traditions. The Syrian way is to have lots of dishes, welcome everyone, and enjoy yummy Syrian food alongside traditional American dishes. Today we are still following their lead, gathering with 25 family members and up, and we've sometimes had more than 45 family members when everyone is in town! With 27 grandchildren and 29 great grandchildren from the original 4 Asker siblings, we know they are smiling down on us and are so proud we are carrying on the tradition. Here's how we do our #MyHolidayTradish - Our, "Big Fat Syrian Holiday!"
About a month before the holiday, the older ladies get together and decide who will host the holiday. Now a days, they pick one of their children, now in our 30s, to hound for the hosting at their house. The host will then send out an email asking for everyone to report what potluck dish they are bringing and decide who will make the turkey. About two weeks before, our moms, in their 70s now, get together and make the rolled grape leaves. The leaves have been picked from my 94 year old grandmother's grapevine out back, the first pick and most tender of course, stems cut, wilted in hot water for one minute, then frozen flat. They thaw while the ladies make the rice, tomato, and ground chuck beef mixture that will be rolled tight into tiny cigars, and frozen. They are cooked a special way the morning of the holiday. Someone is assigned to make the Aras, a holiday bread that takes about 6 hours to make and was left off the menu this year.
The morning of, everyone cooks their special dish, whether it be the kibbee (Double ground beef London Broil with bulgar - cracked wheat. My grandmother says Publix will have it on sale sometimes for $5/lb and ask the butcher himself if he knows kibbee meat, they all do, and he will know how to grind it twice.), hummus, squash casserole, grape leaves, dressing, turkey, ham, Syrian rice (orzo noodles browned in lots of butter then Uncle Ben's rice boiled in, sometimes add meat), salad, broccoli casserole, macaroni and cheese, entubah (a baked eggplant and tomato dish with lots of sauteed onions and garlic), roasted cauliflower or Brussels sprouts, sweet potato casserole, and more! We bring it to the house and aim for 12:30pm so we can have everything out and unwrapped, serving spoons found, turkey cut (and yummy turkey carrots eaten), and say grace by 1:00pm. We usually make it by 1:30pm or 2:00pm!
Then everyone eats. We used to let the kids go first so the parents could help them pick what they would eat, and then the parents could sit and eat in peace. At some point they started letting the parents, who did all the cooking, go first and let the older kids fend for themselves. Now we have wee ones again so we get their food and take two bites before they run off and play together. The men eat at the couch then settle down to watch football, and the ladies sit at the dining table to talk. We always have the Detroit Lions game on, of course! This year the Lions won with a 50 yard field goal with 2 seconds to spare - oh yah! After lunch we wait an hour or so...if we can make it that long...before bringing out the desserts. We used to have butlouwee (baklavah by the Greeks is the more known pronunciation), but my 94 year old grandmother doesn't make it that much anymore, our moms are holding back on this other time sink dessert, but SO yummy of a tradition, and well, it's really our generation that should take responsibility for learning and making it. So this year we had apple pie, pumpkin pie, ice cream (my uncle used to distribute for Haagen Dazs and we had this at every holiday so it is still a must!), cookies, and the now famous cheese cake bites from our amazing new cousin - in - law! How we can fit it all in our bellies, we'll never know!
After lunch and dessert, many sit on the couch and let the turkey coma set in, moms chase after little ones, and the older ladies talk at the kitchen table about their grandchildren and their latest health issues. We all enjoy our time and chatter about the latest events. We enjoy our cousin time and catching up. At about 5:00pm everyone says their goodbyes to head home for bed or on to the next house for a second holiday dinner.
It seems as though now that we're on our 4th generation and families must quickly leave to share the holiday with in-laws, or that it's hard to find a house big enough for us all, or political views begin to divide that we should start new traditions with our own immediate families. But we just can't. We want to recreate the memories of running around our Situ Sadie's house, grabbing the hot fried cauliflower right off the stove, having all the dishes out on her kitchen table within the historic home they built in San Marco and telling your mom what to put on the plate. We loved making fun of uncles that fell asleep watching football. We just love our cousins and our big family, and our, "Big Fat Syrian Holiday!" We'll continue the tradition of being together, enjoying lots of good Arabic food, and relaxing together in a family home. We want our kids to know this tradition and know their cousins, we want to pass down the little left we know of our Syrian heritage to this 5th generation, and to pass down a lot of what we remember about our grandparents in the process.
How do you do your holiday traditions? Share your Thanksgiving and Holiday photos using the hashtag #MyHolidayTradish and then enter to win groceries for a YEAR for you and a friend from Whole Foods Market Jacksonville! Enter to win FREE groceries by clicking HERE!