From Our Readers | Love Letters to Maine

For this issue, we asked readers to write letters about their holiday traditions.

My Colombian husband makes the most delicious matzo ball soup. No frozen latkes for us! We make them from scratch, and after frying them up our house always smells like latkes for at least a week. Every year we light three different menorahs that each have sentimental value: the first one I ever bought, the one we got for our wedding, and, lastly, an aluminum foil one crafted by our young son Ben. When Chanukah and Christmas fall together it is truly the “festival of lights” in our home.
—Meryl Hernandez, North Yarmouth

I grew up in a Chinese immigrant family along the beautiful and rugged coast of Maine. My favorite holiday tradition combines the quintessentially American Thanksgiving with Asian flavors and fresh Maine ingredients. Instead of feasting on a typical roast turkey, my family opts for a Maine lobster dinner prepared Cantonese style, with lots of ginger, garlic, and scallions. Our side dishes feature not only the traditional cranberry sauce and buttery mashed potatoes but also spicy mapo tofu, cooked with dried chilis from our garden, and Sichuan yuxiang eggplant. For dessert, I usually bake a decadent blueberry pie featuring frozen blueberries handpicked from our backyard bushes, which were planted not too long after my family planted our own roots in Maine. Every Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of how blessed and grateful I am to call Maine home, a place that adopted my immigrant family with open arms and shared with us not only its freshest bounties from the land and the sea but also the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive.
—Er Li Peng, South Portland

After Thanksgiving, my Christmas baking begins. Over the years I have added or subtracted what I bake, honing in on the family favorites. Tucked in my recipe book I have lists dating back to 1992. My baking starts with the simplest recipes first, since giving the feeling of progress is important during such a busy season. First up, two spiced loaves, which fill the house with the delicious smell of Christmas. Next is fudge, known now as “fudge cubes” by my grandson. Norwegian Christmas breads are next on the list. Then the cookie baking starts: peppernuts, spritz, Scandinavian almond bars, Swedish gingersnaps, sand cakes, plus banana nut muffins and sweet rolls. I raised four sons, and part of the tradition is that we don’t eat any cookies until they are all finished, the exception being the Swedish gingersnaps. I always made enough dough for the kids to make their own cookies either with cookie cutters or freeform. The dough is very kid friendly. My sons are grown, and now I make enough dough for my grandkids, who live next door. The tradition of waiting to consume is twofold; you have cookies to enjoy throughout the holidays and enough to give to friends. It also builds the anticipation and makes that first cookie platter very special. One Christmas, I made each of my sons bound notebooks with handwritten recipes of our favorite treats with plenty of room left for their own family traditions.
—Brenda Melhus, Norway

My family has always been a family of faith. Every year, as far back as I can remember, in honor of the true Christmas meaning, my family has always had a birthday cake for Jesus. We have our tree, we open our presents, but our favorite part of Christmas morning is celebrating the best Christmas gift of all! We sing “Happy Birthday” to Christ, and we have a slice of cake for breakfast, usually with a glass of light eggnog!
—Christal Levier, Westbrook

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