Pasadena and its surrounding communities are also home to a wonderfully diverse population of people who choose to honor their heritage and cultural traditions in a variety of ways.
In Venezuelan culture, for instance, Christmas holds a place of great importance, says Lizett Artziniega, an Armenian resident of Glendale who grew up in Venezuela.
“It’s really a big party, with typical Christmas food mainly prepared for the season, music and decorations in the house,” says Artziniega. She and her family, like many Venezuelans, typically start the preparations early.
Before Christmas, family members start preparing the elaborate and most desired dish of all from Venezuelan people, hallaca, (pronunced ah-yaka), she says. “It’s a dish of beef, pork, chicken, mixed with raisins, capers, and olives and wrapped in cornmeal dough, all folded within plantain leaves, tied with strings, and boiled or steamed afterwards,” she explains. The hallacas are served with pork roast, potato salad, and pan de jamon which is bread with ham. The family also listens to music typically played during the season called gaitas, which is a style of Venezuelan folk.
When it comes to families and gatherings, one local resident nostalgically recalls what makes the holiday season special in her culture. Bobbie Mulcahey — whose father is Hungarian — speaks fondly of the traditions of her childhood.
“My favorite Hungarian tradition is the Hungarian Christmas, Mikulás (mee-ku-lash) Nap, or St. Nicholas Day, celebrated on Dec. 6,” she says. “Like most young Hungarian children, my brothers and I would put our shoes out on the evening of Dec 5, hoping Mikulás would come. On the morning of Dec.6, we would wake up and find our shoes filled with money, candy and other goodies, by the Hungarian Santa, Mikulás.”
Mulcahey says these traditions are an integral part of family life and who she is. “I have continued this holiday tradition with my own family,” she says.
Christmas celebrations in Mexico begin on Dec. 12 and continue through Jan. 6. From Dec. 16 to Christmas Eve, Mexican children perform the Posadas, a series of nine processions that celebrate the biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s search of lodging. Many Mexican families decorate the exterior of their homes with moss, evergreens and paper lanterns.
Jackie Gibson, a long-time Pasadena resident with Mexican roots remembers the excitement of her childhood Christmas celebrations, especially the wonderful food prepared by her mother and grandmother.
“Tamales are a major activity in Mexican homes for the holidays,” she says But, “It’s a very long process and many families would gather many family members to make them.”
Gibson and her family would often buy their tamales ready-made from a beloved market in East Los Angeles.
“Many families would stand in line, waiting to buy their ‘masa’ from them, to make their tamales at home, and then there was always a line around the bakery. There’s a giant plate glass window where you can see all the dear, sweet, little older ladies making the tamales.”
Christmas is officially celebrated on Jan. 6 in the Armenian culture. Since many Armenians fast in the week prior to Christmas, the celebratory meal takes on additional significance. The Christmas Eve meal is called khetum and often includes dishes like, fish, rice, nevik, a dish made from green chard and chick peas, and tanabur, a soup made from yogurt and wheat.
Marianna Babayan, a Glendale resident, recollects her favorite Armenian holiday dishes and traditions; “There’s a dish called Ghapama, made with pumpkin. You gut the top of the pumpkin, fill it with cooked rice and lots of dried fruits and nuts, and bake it in the oven” she said.
Santa Claus, she continues, is called “Gaghant Baba” or “Kaghand Papa,” and in Armenian tradition he makes his appearance on New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31), since Christmas Day is viewed as more of a religious holiday in Armenia.
Whether it’s a fond memory of a beloved holiday song, a favorite dish — or even the ritual of the preparation itself — families are more alike than not in that their holiday customs tend to promote togetherness and family bonding.
• 3 1⁄2 lbs. pork shoulder or 3 1⁄2 lbs. pork butt,
trimmed of fat and cut up
• 10 cups water
• 1 medium onion, quartered
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 3 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
• 4 cups red chili sauce (see red chili sauce (to be
used with traditional tamales) for red chili sauce)
• 3⁄4 cup shortening
• 6 cups masa harina
• 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
• 50 dried corn husks (about 8 inches long)
1. In a 5 qtr. Dutch oven, bring pork, water, onion,
garlic and 1 1/2 salt to boil.
2. Simmer covered, about 2 1/2 hours or until meat is
3. Remove meat from broth and allow both meat and
broth to cool. (Chilling the broth will allow you to
easily remove the fat if you desire to do so).
4. Shred the meat using 2 forks, discarding fat.
5. Strain the broth and reserve 6 cups.
6. In a large sauce pan, heat the red chili sauce and
add meat; simmer, covered for 10 minutes.
7. To make masa beat shortening on medium speed in
a large bowl for 1 minute.
8. In a separate bowl, stir together masa harina,
baing powder and 2 teaspoons salt.
9. Alternately add masa harina mixture and broth to
shortening, beating well after each addition. (Add
just enough broth to make a thick, creamy paste).
10. In the meantime, soak corn husks in warm water
for at least 20 minutes; rinse to remove any corn
silk and drain well.
11. To assemble a tamale, spread 2 tablespoons of the
masa mixture on the center of the corn husk (each
husk should be 8 inches long and 6 inches wide at
the top. If husks are small, overlap 2 small ones to
form one. If it is large, tear a strip from the side).
12. Place about 1 tablespoon meat and sauce mixture
in the middle of the masa.
13. Fold in sides of husk and fold up the bottom.
14. Place a mound of extra husks or a foil ball in the
center of a steamer basket placed in a Dutch oven.
15. Lean the tamales in the basket, open side up.
16. Add water to Dutch oven just below the basket.
17. Bring water to boil and reduce heat.
18. Cover and steam 40 minutes, adding water when
19. To freeze these for future meals, leave them in
the husks and place them in freezer bags. To
reheat, thaw and wrap in a wet paper towel and
reheat in the microwave for 2 minutes for one or
two or re-steam them just until hot.
(Recipe courtesy of food.com)