It Wouldn't Be Christmas Without The Herring, Big Macs And Perogies

A few weeks ago, we asked listeners to tell us what they ate for Christmas, even if they didn't celebrate the holiday. Robert Siegel shares a round-up of some of their responses, which include a Big Mac and fries, herring salad, and two cans of soup.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Time to talk food, Christmas food. A few weeks ago, we asked you to tell us what you eat for Christmas regardless of whether you celebrate the holiday. Here now, a short survey: goose, duck, turkey, tofu, oysters and McDonald's.

KYLIE PHILLIPS: I'm a pretty healthy eater. But on Christmas Eve, I allow myself to have a Big Mac and fries.

SIEGEL: That's Kylie Phillips(ph) of Plymouth, Michigan.

PHILLIPS: My dad and I are both musicians, and so every Christmas Eve is somewhat involved for us. We're always playing music at church. One Christmas Eve, my mom was focused on getting all of us where we needed to be and dinner just slipped her mind.

SIEGEL: Perfectly understandable. And no restaurants were open, except Mickey D's. This was nearly 10 years ago.

PHILLIPS: My mother keeps trying to change our minds and keeps offering to make some big meal, but we just keep insisting on McDonald's.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Traditions are hard to change. Many of you wrote to say it just wouldn't be Christmas without your special food. Carter Gallardo(ph) of Durham, North Carolina, sits down with his family the night of December 25th and enjoys an orange dreamsicle cake made by his mother. That's because his birthday is the next day.

In Tennessee, they toast the ravioli. They have lobsters in Maine, tamales in Texas, shrimp creole in Colorado, black cod in Alaska and herring under a fur coat in Los Angeles. Here's Daniel Malakoff(ph) with the Russian name for his cold salad dish.

DANIEL MALAKOFF: (Foreign language spoken)...

SIEGEL: (Foreign language spoken)?

MALAKOFF: ...which translates to herring under a fur coat. It's definitely for salt lovers because it's a hefty mouthful of sodium. It's salted herring with cubed potatoes, beets, sliced carrots and a whole lot of mayonnaise.

SIEGEL: And Malakoff says that while there's no literal coat involved, herring under a fur coat is quite a sight.

MALAKOFF: When you cut through this really nice, white, creamy, textured top, you get a very rich crimson, beet-colored, red center. So it looks quite pretty.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Of course, for many Jews like me, Christmas Day just wouldn't be complete without beef lo mein, egg rolls or Peking duck. Lisa Rager(ph) of Kensington, Maryland, grew up in Piedmont, California, where her family would eat Chinese food on Christmas. But the night before, they had a meal familiar to many Catholics from Poland.

LISA RAGER: My mother kept her Polish Christmas Eve tradition from her childhood. It's called Wigilia. It's a vigil feast. It's very simple. No meat and a whole lot of food.

SIEGEL: Including three traditional soups, perogies, a fish dish and a Christmas wafer.

RAGER: We sit there and have this meal with just the five of us. And it was wonderful. And it was this fabulous, sort of like parenthesis to this Jewish life we led. And then we went to sleep on Christmas Eve and we woke up, then we were Jewish again.

SIEGEL: Rager is having her own Wigilia tonight with perogies for her agnostic husband and two of the soups for herself. Tomorrow, it's a Christmas ham for lunch followed by, yup, Chinese food for dinner. And she's looking forward to next year.

RAGER: I'm pregnant with my first child, and I can't wait to carry on both sides of this tradition, the Polish side and the Jewish side.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: And finally, this email from Lou Orchard(ph) of Atlanta. He, too, will enjoy soup for his holiday supper, but not homemade soup: soup from a can. That may sound a little grinchy, but for Orchard, canned soup is a delight. And here's why: On Christmas Day, he flies from Atlanta to Tucson to pick up his 11-year-old daughter. Together, the day after, they fly to Spokane, Washington, to spend a week with his extended family.

Orchard writes this: I don't get to see my daughter nearly as often as I would like, and I usually only get to see my siblings once a year. But to be with Stephanie and my siblings and their families is a big deal. Orchard has soup for dinner on Christmas because by the time his plane arrives in Tucson, the restaurants are closed. He says: I can look forward to my canned soup for dinner on Christmas because I know I'm about to have the time of my life with my favorite people on the planet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS")

ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) Have yourself a merry, little Christmas. Let your heart be light. Next year, all our troubles...

SIEGEL: We'll have more stories about what you eat and drink on Christmas Day on tomorrow's program. Meanwhile, enjoy your Christmas Eve. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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