New Study Uncovers The Important Role Nostalgia Plays In Holiday Meals

There is no denying the power of tradition around the holidays. Even for the most cynical among us, it's hard to walk the streets during the season, with homes and businesses lit up, and not be overcome with a heartwarming feeling. We look forward to gatherings and the giving of gifts not just because they are nice themselves, but because repeating these traditions grounds us in time and place, linking us to our family's past and our own. And the feeling of nostalgia extends to our love of certain foods as well. We like to think that our taste buds are objective judges of what is good or not, but they are just as tied to our pasts as any other feeling.

Even outside of the holidays and annual meals you can see this at play with food. How many of your favorite childhood snacks would you think are actually good if you tried them for the first time today? That's not to say your mom's glazed ham isn't delicious, but as CNN reports, our cravings for certain food around holidays like Thanksgiving are as tied to old memories of those meals as it is the actual taste of the food. 

As much as we enjoy novelty in our day-to-day eating, we like doing the same thing year after year just as much, and that extends to the comfort of special holiday dishes as much as anything. Americans openly recognize and embrace this fact too, as a new survey shows.

Culture and heritage are important for holiday meals

If you love turkey, stuffing, fruitcake, and Christmas cookies around the holidays, you are not alone. According to a new survey from the University of Minnesota, 81% of adults in the United States say serving food that their family has cooked for years is important. And it's not just older Americans who care about this, as Gen Z respondents actually had the highest number at 86%. During a time when it feels like every year brings a wave of food trends or new "twists" on old classics, the desire for comfort and classics during the holidays was nearly universal across generations. Let's celebrate the fact that mashed potatoes and mac and cheese will be welcome at the Christmas dinner table for years to come.

It's not just sense memories and the comfort of tradition that gives food nostalgia its power either. As Time reveals, comfort food helps strengthen social bonds and heightens the joy we feel in sharing close relationships. Holiday comfort food tastes better to us not just because of when we eat it but who we eat it with. This is a good reminder that "heritage and tradition," don't mean the same things to everyone, and each new generation is capable of making its own contributions to holiday traditions. So don't ignore the old favorites this season, but don't be afraid to add a few new ideas either.