The Amazing Race: A Journey Across the World in One Christmas Eve

As the batter expands and browns in the oven to form the delicious puddings from my childhood, my mother exclaims to my older brother:

“Tanner, don’t you dare open that oven!!!”

The aroma of savory Yorkshire puddings being made fills the air, and just like that the tradition of my family’s Christmas Eve feast begins. Earlier on Christmas Eve is when my Papaw and I make the trip to our local grocery store, Dillon’s, the Kroger of Kansas, to buy the key ingredient in our feast — the crab legs. After returning home with our prized possession, I adorn my apron and help my mother prepare the rest of the food. We chop onions for quite awhile, just like the main character Tita, in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate, and add them to the crock-pot with some beef stock. With just a few ingredients, I am transported to Christmases from the past; the French onion soup has been a staple on Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember.

An example of a typical bowl of French onion soup — piping hot and smothered in cheese and bread.

Once the soup has been simmering for a few hours, we start on the other component of our meal. To create Yorkshire pudding, begin by mixing the flour, eggs, milk, and salt to form the batter. After heating the muffin pan, we fill each muffin tin with a small amount of savory beef drippings before adding the batter. The beef drippings are derived from a roast we typically cook a few days before Christmas that really gets everyone excited for the feasts to come. After a few short minutes, the puddings will come out of the oven looking as delicious as can be. The night proceeds as follows: unwrapping the crab legs, dressing up the French onion soup with homemade croutons and cheese, and getting everyone in their aprons before the main event of the night — the meal.

Pictured from left to right: Tanner Edmonds, Shelby Edmonds (me), Stacy (Sanford) Edmonds, Jim Sanford, Char (Murphy) Sanford — Christmas 2012. The best part of this picture in my opinion is my grandpa trying to say “shucks” instead of smiling for the camera.

It is moments like these that showcase the importance of family. In my opinion family is best celebrated by encompassing all of the love and conflicts that being together entails through the food we all know and love. In my research, I plan to investigate the origin of my family’s signature meal­­ — king crab legs with Old Bay seasoning, Yorkshire pudding, and French onion soup. Starting with, I have discovered the origin of my family to be Wales and Great Britain. Through further investigation, I have also uncovered that Yorkshire pudding is quite traditional in most British families.

Making Yorkshire pudding is pretty simple and it only bakes for about 30 minutes.
The end result is puffy, hollow, and delicious!

The other main component of our meal, the crab legs, is on par with the proximity of Wales to the sea. The soup we traditionally eat on Christmas Eve, French onion soup has been around since ancient times, but became popular in America with the surge in fame of the well-know chef Julia Child. She brought ‘French’ cuisine to America and because of this my family added onto our usual feast. Our American tendencies come out in the way that the Christmas Eve meal is a mix of different cultures, especially those that are not native to our bloodline.

Pictured from left to right: Jim Sanford, Char (Murphy) Sanford, Shelby Edmonds (Me), Stacy (Sanford) Edmonds, Tanner Edmonds, John Edmonds, Jean (Meredith) Edmonds — 2014 at Tanner’s Commissioning Ceremony into the Army. My grandpa (Jim Sanford) and my dad (John Edmonds) are also members of the U.S. Army.
Some delicious crab legs with my favorite Christmas sweater in the background.

The rest of the night is a conundrum of smells, sights, and sounds and represents Christmas perfectly. The start of dinner is marked with everyone donning their aprons and sitting around our large and ever changing dining room table. Sometimes there are new folks around the table, sometimes people are not there to be sitting around the table with us, but most of us stick around because that is what family is all about. Dinner starts with us passing around clusters of crab legs and my brother greedily devouring his. My grandmother always says something along the lines of

“There is no way I am eating that! We will smell like the ocean at church!!!”

She is right — we always smell like the Christmas Eve feast when we attend church that night, but I do not care — that is the smell of memories being made around the table with the people I hold dearest to my heart. We take turns at dinner talking about anything and everything in between slurping French onion soup and savoring every last bite of Yorkshire pudding. To me, the night is perfect no matter what happens. As long as you are with the ones you love, the feast is complete because it is love that we need to nourish our traditions. Through my research, I plan to examine the way there are concrete traditions within our family, but most of them revolve around the same few things: love, family, and memories.

Pictured from left to right: Katie (Barker) Edmonds, Tanner Edmonds, Jim Sanford, Char (Murphy) Sanford, Stacy (Sanford) Edmonds, and Shelby Edmonds (Me) — Christmas 2014

Our traditions all seem to involve food, which showcases just how prevalent food is in our culture. It is remarkable to consider the ways that food has become globalized since my ancestors were immigrating to America. When we buy crab legs from the grocery store, the crab has traveled all the way from Alaska and this would be next to impossible without technology, aircrafts, and freight. The Yorkshire pudding is made from flour harvested from all across the country, and the soup is made from onions grown close by in Vidalia, Georgia. It is impressive how much time can change one family’s traditions purely because of the new possibilities on the horizon. My ancestors in Pennsylvania and Virginia braved it all to create new traditions in America, and it adds an element of pride to all my family get-togethers when I think of how far we have come.

Pictured from left to right: Jim Sanford, Margie Murphy, Vergie (Mae) Murphy, Char (Murphy) Sanford, Valton Murphy — enjoying a visit to my great grandmother’s (Vergie Murphy) house in Aurora, Illinois during the early 1990s.

To better understand my heritage, I have read a few sources about why my family left their homelands. Some left because of religious dissent, others left possibly for new adventure, and possibly others left as a pathway through indentured servitude to make something more with their lives. The history during this time has shown me just how precious our traditions are simply because, to be alive today I know that my ancestors had to overcome all odds. Some of my family settled one of the first Presbyterian churches in America in the Pennsylvania Colony, and I would like to perform further research on how this religious factor may have impacted my family’s and other people’s outlook on life, food, and traditions.

My Great Uncle Valton Murphy and his wife, Margie. Pictured on their wedding day on October 7th, 1961.

Pictured from left to right: Char (Murphy) Sanford, Stacy (Sanford) Edmonds, Michael Murphy (Valton’s son) , Valton Murphy (Char’s Brother) — late 1970s.

Delving deeper into my family’s history, I intend to relate our current traditions to our immigration into America in the 1600s. I would like to showcase the actual immigration records as physical evidence of my ancestors coming to America. I will discuss the importance of Pennsylvania and Virginia’s history and how this has impacted my own life, along with the lives of all of my ancestors. Another angle I would like to examine with my research is the importance of my close relatives and I having our signature meal on Christmas Eve. Why are Christmas traditions more important to us? Has our family’s relationship with religion changed over time? After selecting a few of my sources already, I would also like to see if my family’s history is similar to others who took the same path to America.

Another way our family traditions have been impacted is by our constantly changing ‘home.’ Growing up with deep military roots, I have lived in six different states, and my mother, whose dad is also military, has lived all over the globe. Jim and Char Sanford are my maternal grandparents, and they have lived everywhere from Holland to Germany to Augusta, Georgia to Fort Riley, Kansas. My family has such strong connections to each other solely because sometimes it was all we had. When you move to a new town, you don’t know where anything is, and everyone you see is a stranger. It is times like these that having family to rely on becomes very important to survive in a new environment. A lot of our traditions seem like a hodge podge of ideas, but I think they were forged with the idea that each place you go, you leave a piece of yourself behind in exchange for a piece of that city’s culture.

My mother Stacy (Sanford) Edmonds, preparing part of our Chrismas Eve feast.

To get more direct research about the history of my family, I plan on interviewing the tradition bearer of my family, my mother. My mom has been the tradition holder, or the Tita of our family for as long as I can remember. The reason I call her “the Tita of my family” is because just like the character Tita, from Laura Esquivel’s book Like Water for Chocolate, she is the person who revives tradition and family heritage each and every year so that our family history is not lost over time. She knows a lot about the logistics of our family tree, and also she knows a lot about the roles each ancestor played in our family’s set of traditions. My mother has kept track of all of this information via her detailed scrapbooks she has been creating for years. I would love to showcase photos she has saved, along with the information I receive from my interview with my mother. The questions I plan on asking are:

1. How long have we been eating the same meal for Christmas Eve?

2. Do you think moving all over the world has impacted our family’s set of traditions?

3. What are your favorite family recipes?

4. How has our family’s history been different than that of a typical family?

5. What is the best part about Christmas?

6. Tell me some of your most vivid family memories.

7. How has Christmas changed since you were a kid?

8. What traditions would you like to add to our family?

9. What is the best way to keep up with family ancestry?

10. Tell me about the oldest relatives you know.

Pictured from left to right: Shelby Edmonds (me), Stacy Edmonds, Tanner Edmonds, Katie (Barker) Edmonds, Char (Murphy) Sanford, Jim Sanford at my brother’s wedding in the summer of 2015. This wedding is a symbol of continuing on our traditions through generations to come.

Working Sources-

Brooks, David. “Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion.” The New York Times, 23 October 2015. Web. 26 October 2015.

Conway, Alan. The Welsh In America: Letters from the Immigrants. Minneapolish: University of Minnesota Press, 1961. Print.

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1961. Print.

Hoogenboom, Ari, and Philip S. Kein. A History of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania: McGraw- Hill, Inc., 1973. Print.

Inglis, David, and Debra Gimlin. The Globalization of Food. Berg: New York, 2009, Print.

“Military Families: The Costs of Commitment.” The Family in America: an Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. 2001. Print.

Morton, Richard L. Colonial Virginia. 2 vols. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1960, Print.

Murdoch, Alexander. British Emigration 1602–1914. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2004. Print.

Restad, Penne L. Christmas In America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.

Shapiro, Laura. Julia Child. New York: Penguin Group, 2007. Print.

Spencer, Colin. British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years Of History. London: Grub Street, 2002. Print.

Weisser, Henry. Wales: An Illustrated History. New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc. 2002. Print.

Whitely, Shelia. Christmas, Ideology and Popular Culture. Edinburgh: Eduinburgh University Press, 2008. Print.