Ham, Haroset, and Hazelnuts: Students’ spring holidays consist of traditional foods

By: Lana McIlvaine and Lucinda Dorrance

Photo courtesy of: Lina Kivaka/Pexels

During the Spring, there are a few major holidays celebrated by different religions. Easter, Eid-al-Fitr, and Passover each have unique traditions and special foods. Riverside students celebrate each holiday differently and have nostalgia for their favorite foods.

According to Britannica, the earliest celebration of Easter was recorded in the second century. It is celebrated every year by Christians. This year Easter occurs on Sunday, April 9. Over time, many popular Easter traditions have been introduced; most famously the egg hunt. The Easter Bunny is said to hide the gift-filled eggs for children to find. In the past, a lamb would be eaten to represent sacrifice, along with ham, cheese, bread, and eggs. 

Sophomore Kaileigh Hill described the holiday timeline of the spring. 

“Lent is the 40 day period where Jesus was in the wilderness before he was crucified.” Hill said. “The start of that is Ash Wednesday. It’s always 46 days before Easter. Some people eat bread and wine, because bread is the body of Christ and wine is the blood. The other most important day is Palm Sunday, which is the last Sunday in Lent and it’s known as the ‘Holy Week.’”

“During the 40 days of lent, on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays during lent you’re not supposed to eat meat. You can’t eat lamb, chicken, beef, pork, whatever, all meats,” says Hill. “But you can still eat eggs, milk, fish, grains, fruits, vegetables, stuff like that. If you are pregnant or ill or elderly or young, you are exempt from it. You obviously don’t have to if you don’t want to, but most, especially in Catholic churches, make it almost mandatory.”

Sophomore Lio Fister described their favorite Easter foods. 

“We always had dinners,” said Fister. “It was a tradition with the same food. It all brought us together because it was all food that we liked. 

Their Easter dinners include ham, green beans, mashed potatoes, and deviled eggs. 

One time my dad tried to make a lamb, and he did not cook it well,” said Fister. “It was not good. We really just stick to ham and rolls,”

Eid al-Fitr (also known as Eid- ul-Fitr) is an Islamic holiday, this year being celebrated from April 21 to the 22. It is celebrated on the first two to three days of the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a festival that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting from dawn to dusk. Other than not eating food from dawn to dusk, those participating in Ramadan do not drink, smoke, engage in sexual activities, and abstain from jealousy, anger, cursing, and gossiping.

Eid al-Fitr is the first time Muslims can eat during daylight hours after Ramadan. Celebrations may include visiting family or friends, eating, giving gifts, or wearing new clothes. There are many different foods eaten to celebrate, but some of the most common include maamoul, baklava, qurabiya, and other sweet treats.

Sophomore Nazanin Ghulami described Eid al-Fitr traditions. 

“The Eid celebration begins with communal prayer in mosques nearby,” Ghulami said. “The big part of Eid al-fitr is having a celebratory meal with loved ones and appreciating things in life like food, people, loved ones, even as simple as having a roof over our head. Just being grateful.”

Ghulami lived in Afghanistan until May of 2021. 

“Eid ul-Fitr was always a fun time growing up in Afghanistan,” Ghulami said. “It came right after the long month of fasting, and even though I was too young to fast, I still appreciated how on Eid ul-Fitr the smell of Bamiye, jalebi, gheimeh, Ashak, and Bolani filled the streets of my neighborhood. There would be kids playing, running around and playing hopscotch or haft sang.”

The food, she says, reminds her of home the most. 

“While I’m miles away from home and don’t get to experience celebrations like I used to,” said Ghulami. “I still enjoy making traditional Afghani meals during Eid.” 

Ghulami describes the devastating reality of celebrating her culture in America. 

“Since I’ve left Afghanistan and I’ve moved to these places, I’ve kind of stopped celebrating many of the traditions we would celebrate,” she said. “Many of the Eids, there are other ones as well. Just because, in the sad way that it is, there is no welcoming that I feel. So there aren’t many communities where I would want to celebrate with.”

Out of all of the Eid foods, Ghulami has a delicious favorite. 

“One of my favorite meals was Bolani,” she said. “First, a large batch of filling is made using mashed potatoes and chopped-up greens such as cilantro and green onions. Next, the dough is made using just flour, salt, and water. The dough is rolled out and cut into semicircles about the size of your palm. The best part is when with clean hands you fill the semicircle with the filling, and you dampen the edges and seal each Bolani, the last step is to fry them and enjoy with yogurt or homemade sauce.”

Ghulami doesn’t enjoy the desserts as much as other members of her family, with one exception. 

“I don’t like sweets too much, but there is one that I will always accept, and that is Jalebi,” she said. “It’s a swirly sweet and it’s very sugary.” Jalebi is made out of flour, sugar syrup, baking soda, and ‘other flavors.’

Passover is the Jewish celebration that commemorates the liberation from slavery in Egypt. This year it is being celebrated from April 5 to Thursday, April 13. Traditional customs include telling the Passover story, participating in a seder, drinking wine, and eating symbolic foods.

Sophomore Elijah Foster’s family celebrates the Passover seder with historical rituals and food. 

“You kind of go through the story, and at certain points there are different rituals you do, like escaping,” said Foster. “There’s this little book and you read it out. There are different foods you eat that represent different things.”

Junior Aidan Holder’s family plays several different games during passover.

“One of the games we play a lot at Passover is where you take a piece of matzah bread and you hide it,” said Holder. “After hiding the matzah bread, all the kids run around trying to find it and whoever finds it gets like 20 bucks or something. There’s one part during one of the prayers where you dip your finger in some wine and each dot that you put on your plate represents a certain event in history, and that’s really cool. But mostly just food and playing games.”

The Passover foods, he said, hold special significance, too. 

“[Passover food is] kind of everything,” said Holder. “The games involve food, and all of the food is symbolic in some way. For example we have lambs. That’s from when in the Bible the Hebrew people spread lamb blood on doors to stop…one of the plagues that were in Egypt. Then there’s the matzah itself that is supposed to represent sandstone from the pyramids. The spread that goes on the matzah, that’s supposed to be the mortar that they used. The wine is supposed to represent blood. There’s like a few other things, but the food is very much tied [to Passover].”

While Holder’s favorite Passover food is the matzah ball soup, Foster loves haroset.

“[haroset] is like apples and honey and cinnamon and nuts and then you mix it all together,” said Foster. “There’s [also] this other food called gefilte fish. It’s a ball of fish and kind of gelatinous. It’s kind of off-putting, but I like it. And the other kind of big food related thing is we eat matzah. It’s like a cracker and it’s supposed to symbolize the story when the Jews were escaping Egypt. They didn’t have time for their bread to rise because they left in such a hurry, so it just made this cracker, and for like the 7-8 days of Passover you’re not supposed to eat any bread, you only are supposed to eat matzah.”

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