Heading over the river and through the woods for a home cooked holiday meal might be the plan for some this year while others may pick up their holiday dinner from a local grocery store or decide to eat out at a restaurant.
Regardless of how families celebrate the season, planning for this special time of year is a delicate balance between tradition, changing family dynamics and time management.
Elaine Sharpe, an associate professor of psychology at Rockford University, who teaches classes on developmental psychology and generations, says there are differences in how multiple generations view and celebrate holiday traditions.
“The Pew Research Center reports that a generational change is mostly occurring with Gen X’ers (people between the ages of 38-53) and Millennials (ages 22-37),” she said. “The major shift we have seen is that while these two groups still adhere to some traditions, they are less religiously affiliated in general and they view holidays as cultural events rather than religious events.
“Where the older generations focus Christmas on going to church as a family … we see a shift with Millennials who may put up a Christmas tree, but there won’t be a Nativity set with it.” Sharpe continued. “Generation X and Millennials may be less likely to attend church or integrate something spiritual into their holiday celebrations. With that said, they still adhere to a lot of the other holiday traditions like gathering as a family and exchanging gifts.”
Sending and receiving Christmas cards or holiday greetings is another area where many Generation X’ers and Millennials have chosen to revise the old traditions.
“We can attribute this trend away from sending Christmas cards to the younger generations being more mindful of the environment, paper usage, the cost of buying and sending cards and their involvement in technology and social media,” Sharpe said. “What we tend to see from the X’s and the Millennials are mass emails or texts to everyone in their contact list to convey holiday greetings.
“With the push of a button they can still send the sentiment and have that connection with others quickly and more efficiently than the time it takes to write out and send Christmas cards in the mail,” she said.
If it sounds like the younger generations have no regard for tradition, Sharpe points out many ways in which tradition still matters during the holidays.
“We still see the tradition of families getting together as important to Generation X and Millennials,” she said. “Many people copy the traditions of their childhood and that is still happening to a greater extent than not.”
Most Gen X’ers and Millennials, according to Sharpe, still have their Baby Boomer parents and grandparents guiding holiday activities.
“The Baby Boomers are still cooking those big meals and gathering the folks together, and that works for Generation X and the Millennials. The ones who have the mantle of leadership right now are the Baby Boomers who keep holiday traditions alive,” she said.
Even in her own family, Sharpe is seeing her children take an interest in learning how to cook family holiday recipes.
“My oldest daughter is Generation X and asked me to come over and show her and my granddaughter how to make homemade pasta. So, the interest in learning these family traditions is there.”
The change with the younger generations is around issues of convenience.
“Why would convenience be embraced around the hectic holiday season? Because it’s available to us,” Sharpe said. “Convenience might look like a little less emphasis on the holiday meal but still gathering as a family to break bread.”
Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at Hoffman House, a well-known and highly regarded veteran of Rockford restaurants, combines the tradition of a home style meal with the time saving convenience of no cooking or clean up.
Michael Prosser, president of Hoffman House and Henrici’s Management Corporation, said that the restaurant has been having a buffet for Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas for the last 10 to 15 years; while carry-out dinners for these holidays have been available for the last six years.
“When we originally started offering holiday buffets, we would have them just in the dining room of Hoffman House. We started seeing a growth pattern and got busier and busier each year. Now we have the entire building including our banquet rooms set for seating with the Scoreboard Lounge serving as the buffet,” Prosser said. He estimates serving 1,500 people each holiday.
Hoffman House holiday buffets offer breakfast items, beef, chicken and fish, assorted salads and desserts. Additionally, roast turkey is served on Thanksgiving and their specialty, prime rib is served on Christmas.
Prosser said another option many families choose is to pick-up an entire Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner to enjoy at home.
“Our pick-up dinners are prepared in increments of six, 12 and 18. For example, on Thanksgiving we offer three full dinner packages which include all the side dishes.
“A customer could also choose to order only a roast turkey, some side dishes or a pie. This takes the pressure off of having to cook every single dish for the meal,” Prosser said. “People know our food is going to be excellent and the perfect complement to home cooking.”
He said Hoffman House started offering a carry-out option we had maybe 25 or 30 orders for dinners. The number has consistently gone up over the years to now feeding an additional 2,000 people with just pick-up orders.
Prosser sees the convenience and cost of dining out or picking up food as assets to the overall spirit of the holidays.
“By not having the stress or time commitment of cooking a holiday dinner, people have more quality time with their families. When you break the price down between a holiday dinner out and a home cooked holiday dinner; it’s really about the same, if not cheaper to order food or eat out.
“Considering all the shopping, the prep work, cooking, making sure everything is done on time and then doing the dishes, it takes away from spending quality time with your family.”
Married to her husband, John, for 61 years, Rockford resident Angie Germano knows a thing or two about holiday gatherings and home cooking. As her family has grown and changed over the years, Germano has adapted holiday celebrations to accommodate work schedules and out of town relatives.
“When we were first married, we would try and split our time during the holidays between John’s family and mine, but as time went on and as our parents passed away, I would host holiday dinners at my house,” Germano said. “Back then, I couldn’t imagine getting food from a restaurant for a holiday dinner, never. Nowadays, though with so many places offering holiday dinners and with our much bigger family, I have thought about getting a turkey catered in.”
This year, the Germano’s daughter and grandson will host two Thanksgiving dinners to better fit the extended family’s work and travel schedules.
“I’ll still cook for Thanksgiving, and appreciate having the dinner elsewhere because it’s hard to accommodate the whole family at my house,” she said. “The most important thing…is all of us being together in any way we can. That means being flexible and trying to do what’s best to accommodate family members. This is the first time we’re seeing our family do a holiday on different days which is not traditional for us.”
Cooking special foods for the holidays and making five different kinds of Italian cookies is part of Germano’s heritage and a tradition that she won’t give up.
“I still make foods from my Italian background, especially at Christmas and I very much keep that tradition alive. I’ll make the meatballs and Italian sausage on Christmas Eve and we’ll also have the fried cauliflower and pasta with anchovies. The kids and grandkids just love the tortellini with sauce and our tradition of having a birthday cake for Jesus.”
Attending Catholic Mass on Christmas Day and enjoying homemade Italian cookies rounds out Germano’s Christmas traditions, with one goal most crucial.
“For me — the most important thing —the most important, is that our family is together.”