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Holiday Food Lines

And other seasonal delights

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By now, you probably have a small mountain of candy corn to deal with, along with a surplus of those little Snickers candy bars and Pixie Stix out the wazoo. Unless you're like me, that is, and you've snacked on the stuff since mid-October.

All that leftover candy can only mean one thing: the holiday gorging season is upon us. Beginning with Halloween, encompassing Thanksgiving and Christmas and ending on New Year's Day, this two-month-and-two-day period will once again teach us its invaluable lessons. To wit:

•Don't eat an entire sack of Twix bars in one sitting, even if there is an O.C. marathon in the offing.

•Plan early to avoid missing out on the good Christmas hams.

•Look up recipes to deal with all the leftover Halloween pumpkin and Thanksgiving turkey. And, perhaps most importantly. . .

•Never ever eat Tofurky.

It's a time when many animals, after gorging themselves on whatever Ma Nature has to offer, begin to hibernate for the winter or look to put on a few extra pounds for the so-called "lean season."

Many of us humans do the same thing, but forgo the long sleep for a couple months of hardcore television watching. We can also luxuriate in all sorts of canned and jarred goodies put away during the summer, as long as we are either A) serious hippies, the only people who seem to believe in sustainable foods; or B) have a loving, old-school grandmother to do it for us.

After Halloween, it's on to Thanksgiving, that most celebrated of the Food Holidays. When you think of Thanksgiving, you think of two things: the most knuckleheaded of fowl, the turkey, and. . . a nap.

The original Pilgrims ate few of the foods we currently ascribe to Thanksgiving; even the iconic turkey's role is questioned by some food scholars. For instance, sugar had not yet traveled to America, so no cranberry sauce or sweet wine. No potatoes or sweet potatoes, as they had yet to be introduced to the Northeast. And no ham, either, as pigs had yet to make their way to Plymouth Rock.

More likely, says foodnetwork.com, was a feast of venison; fish such as herring, shad, cod, sea bass and eel; corn (a huge staple of the Pilgrim diet); and various types of peas, squash and beans. Dessert likely consisted of nuts -- walnuts, chestnuts, acorns -- along with any number of dried berries. Pumpkins were a particular favorite, owing to their ability to last almost the entire winter in storage.

After Thanksgiving, of course, come Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. With Christmas comes ham, spiked eggnog, and -- here's where you don't want the old-school grandmother -- fruitcakes. Hanukkah gives us latkes (potato pancakes), gelt (chocolate shaped like coins), and sufganiot (jelly doughnuts). Kwanzaa boasts all sorts of goodies, including spicy greens and sweet potato pie. Muslims don't have a real year-end holiday. The faith does feature -- as with Catholics and their Lent -- one non-eating "celebration," Ramadan. Then, depending on the year, there's Eid al-Adha, a three-day festival of sacrifice. Eid al-Adha often involves the literal sacrifice of an animal, of which a third is eaten, a third given to friends, and a third given to the poor. Not religious? You're in luck, too! You atheists and agnostics can eat whatever you damn well please whenever you damn well please!

And then, finally, we have New Year's Eve (champagne and cheese balls) and New Year's Day (Hoppin' John, cornbread, country ham and collards, at least at my house). Outside of Thanksgiving, New Year's Day is my favorite holiday, which may or may not have something to do with the fact that both boast wall-to-wall football action. The first is a day to look back and be thankful, and the second is a day to look to the future with newfound hope and -- hangover-depending -- clarity.

Foodwise, even the practice of one of the most famous customs observed during the annual calendar change, the New Year's Resolution, is fortunate for the gurgitator and gourmand among us. Without all those resolutions to diet and shape up, we'd look like hell come time for summer barbecues.

Timothy C. Davis is a correspondent for Gravy, the official newsletter of the Southern Foodways Alliance. His food writing has appeared in Gastronomica, Saveur, The Christian Science Monitor, and the food website egullet.com. (His rock & roll writing has appeared in. . . well, not those pubs.)

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