University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

The tradition of food

Dawn Johnston teaches in the Department of Communication and CultureDawn Johnston teaches in the Department of Communication and CultureThe tradition of food

Alumna and Faculty of Arts instructor Dawn Johnston talks about the staying power of of holiday food traditions 

Dawn Johnston has researched and taught in the area of food studies for almost a decade and the liveliest discussions with her students have always been about holiday food.

“People get so nostalgic about the holiday treats of their childhood,” says Johnston. “It’s often as profound a memory as any gift received or special event attended.” 

Whether its grandma’s shortbread cookies, mom’s fruit cake or flakey tourtiere, the absence of certain treats would make the holidays seem incomplete. Suggesting a change to the usual menu in some households might even cause tears for those family members who’ve looked forward to their treasured holiday fare all year. 

“Food has always been incredibly important to people–as individuals, as families, as communities, and as cultures,” says Johnston. Food traditions connect people to their culture and their heritage.  When people are away from their families -- if they have moved to another country, particularly -- the practices of preparing and sharing traditional meals can recreate a feeling of home, which is especially meaningful during the holidays.

“Our foodways are among our most deeply-held cultural practices and traditions and in Canada where many holidays are being celebrated, holiday food symbols are different for everyone.”

Even though turkey dinner for some might be tourtiere for others, Johnston says food traditions tend to vary the least across generations and even our global world, people still treasure the food that they grew up with.

“People seem interested in preserving family holiday food traditions,” she says. “Obviously, if the holidays aren't a positive memory, you might want to create your own traditions. Blended, multi-faith or multi-cultural families often have a desire to combine holiday meal traditions–again, and this makes Canada most interesting!”


“I am one of the worst offenders when it comes to not wanting change at the holidays!” says Johnston. “I want to see the same hors d'oeuvres that my mom has been making since I was a child, my dad wrapping scallops in bacon, and 22 different kinds of homemade cookies on one big platter.”

So if you’re thinking of changing up your holiday feast or putting a gourmet twist on a time-honoured recipe, you might want to check with your guests and whatever your traditions, your University of Calgary Alumni Relations team wishes you the very best of the holiday season.