What’s on the holiday table?


Lupe Gutierrez

Sara Gutierrez ‘23 (holding her younger cousin) poses with family during a Christmas get together, excited to eat a freshly cooked meal of tamales, rice and beans.

You take off your earbuds as the car comes to a stop, unplugging them from your phone and putting them in your pocket. After a morning full of gift-opening-induced excitement, you excitedly await the next chapter of your Christmas Day: a family celebration. Picking up a bag of food from the trunk, you walk up to the doorway of the house your family comes to every year to celebrate Christmas. Knock, knock, knock. The door opens, and you are greeted by countless hugs and familiar faces, but that isn’t the first thing you notice. As you gaze around, your senses are hit with the glorious, mouth-watering aroma of delicious food… but what kind of food exactly? 

On the Hill, the answers vary from Tolog to Tolog. From Sri Lankan to Filipino cuisines, among many others, there is no shortage of different dishes represented at the holiday table. 

For Sara Gutierrez ‘23, her Mexican culture plays a big part in what she eats during Christmas. 

“My favorite holiday meal is a pork tamal with rice and beans. We usually help my grandma make the tamales,” Gutierrez said. 

Through these traditions and meals, Gutierrez feels more connected with her culture because making the food also has a great significance to her.

“I don’t really express my culture in my day-to-day life, so when I go to Christmas and I have those cultural foods, it really means a lot to me,” Gutierrez said. 

Abigail Pranata ‘25 feels the same way. 

“In my family, my generation’s biggest way of connecting to our culture is our food,” Pranata said. 

Her holiday meals consist of Indonesian cuisine combined with some typical American dishes. 

“There’s usually ham and mashed potatoes. We also have satay, which is like chicken on a skewer with peanut sauce, but it depends on the year,” Pranata said. 

Pranata’s favorite Christmas dish, however, is one unique to her family. 

“My favorite meal is probably my grandpa’s noodles. I call them his birthday noodles because he only makes them for special holidays like birthdays or Christmas. In the noodles, there’s ground pork, chicken, meatballs, onions and cabbage,” Pranata said. 

Renee Deramerian ‘22 also has a specialty dish present at her family holiday celebrations.

“There’s this one dish my mom only makes during Christmas because it’s a really risky dish to make, because it’s basically just raw beef, seasoned and rolled into meatballs. It’s chi kofte, which is basically like Armenian sushi or beef tartar. It’s so good,” Deramerian said. 

For Tologs like Ava Barraza ‘24, the location of where they celebrate changes what they eat. Barraza eats American Christmas foods like ham and mashed potatoes on most Christmas celebrations, but the cuisine is entirely different if she’s visiting her grandparents. 

“I’m Filipino, so we make traditional Filipino food like adobo [pork, potatoes and rice], lumpia [egg rolls] and ube [a dessert made of yams]. We also have halo-halo, which is like an icee with beans and jelly,” Barraza said.

Chloe Obeyesekere ‘22 has a similar experience. When Obeyesekere celebrates with her mom, she mostly eats American Christmas foods, but Obeyesekere and her mom spread the Christmas spirit to family and friends by gifting their traditional Sri Lankan foods. 

“Every year, my mom makes this cake called Love Cake [a Christmas cake made with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon]. She makes about ten cakes a year to give out to our close family and family friends,” Obeyesekere said. 

The biggest role food plays in Tolog’s holiday celebrations is providing a sense of togetherness and pride in one’s culture. 

“The food I eat at Christmas reminds me of where my grandma and grandpa came from. It means a lot to me how they’re here, sharing that food and tradition with me,” Gutierrez said.