Christmas Cookies, Chinese Food and Giving Back: Holiday Traditions in Our Neighborhood

My mother's cookie recipe and Chinese food on Christmas are two diverse food traditions that co-exist in the diverse community of Southwest Minneapolis.

Our neck of the woods is home to a large variety of congregations that fall within the Christian faith, including the famously ubiquitous Lutherans but also Episcopalians, Baptists, Catholics, Christian Scientists and more. All have their respective traditions, with food and feast playing an integral role.

My husband and I will trek south to my in-laws to celebrate Christmas with a big spread that features a scrumptious ham as its centerpiece. As well, we'll sip Irish Cream around a fire, wax poetic about an old friend's tea ring and prepare our own holiday treats. For example, I will soon be making a pecan pie for a holiday get-together with dear friends.

For a lapsed Presbyterian who is obsessed with food and drink, it's a spectacular time of the year in Minneapolis. Caloric signs of the season abound—a fluffy eggnog punch at brunch, the selection of holiday cuts and roasts at Clancey's and even little things like candy canes, which always make me smile.

The finest of these moments is the annual arrival of my mother's buckeye cookies in the mail. The peanut butter and chocolate delights that she's made for years mean that Christmas is actually on the horizon. It is our own familial food tradition (and the recipe is below).

For some of the non-Christian among us in the neighborhood, Christmas is inextricably linked with a completely different food—Chinese. A short stint in New York introduced me to this secular tradition. For a quick explanation, I spoke with 's Rabbi Michael Adam Latz. He told me, "There's a history in America of Jews having Chinese food and going to the movies on Christmas, simply because they are the only things open."

In Southwest Minneapolis, several Chinese joints will be business as usual on Christmas Eve and, at least three will have regular hours on Christmas Day. One of these is on Nicollet Ave. in Tangletown. It's a family business run by Yan Zheng, her husband and her brother. About last year's holiday business Zheng said, "It's not too busy and mostly takeout." She said they are used to it and don't mind working on Christmas. (Both at West 46th St. and Nicollet Ave. and in Linden Hills, which has table service, wine and beer, will also be open throughout the holidays.)

And at Shir Tikvah, they'll order takeout from Fresh Wok for their Christmas Eve movie night "Shabbat at the Movies." Shabbat, the Jewish day of sabbath, runs from sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday. "We started this last year, because we were having Shabbat services anyway," said Rabbi Latz. According to him, people love the food and it's a fun way to spend the evening at the synagogue.  

They will show "Keeping the Faith" for adults and "Prince of Egypt" for children, starting at 6 p.m. The event is open to all who'd like to partake in Chinese food and watch films so long as they bring $10 and reserve a spot by Dec. 22.

Rabbi Latz and office manager Rebecca Rubenstein also emphasized that Chinese food is not the only Christmas food tradition for the Shir Tikvah community. Many see the days off as a chance to volunteer and give back. Rubenstein told me, "There has always been group of congregants who organize and deliver meals on the holidays."

Rabbi Latz summed it up. "It is not our holiday, but we take seriously the opportunity to do good on this day. Nobody should go hungry or be alone whether it's our holiday or not," he said.

What a great sentiment and custom—I couldn't agree more. As I devour my mom's buckeyes, the rabbi's words remind me that there is much to be learned and shared between the diverse people of the Southwest Minneapolis area—especially through the prism of food.

So whether you are cooking buckeyes, celebrating your religion, eating or preparing Chinese food or volunteering -- enjoy your own special holiday food-related customs and stay safe!


Recipe - Mom's Buckeyes

Makes about 8 dozen

1/2 cup softened butter (1 stick)

2 cups creamy peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

16 ounces confectioners sugar

3 cups Rice Krispies

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons shortening or 1/2 slab baker's wax

Mix the butter, peanut butter, vanilla, sugar and Rice Krispies with your hands in a large bowl. Form into small balls and chill overnight in the refrigerator. Melt chocolate bits and shortening or wax in double boiler over hot but not boiling water.

Dip chilled balls with tongs or toothpicks into the chocolate mixture and drop onto wax paper-lined trays or plates. Let cool. When the chocolate hardens, they are ready to be eaten.


Chinese Restaurants Open on Christmas

- 4749 Nicollet Ave., 612-612-822-4888

- 4610 Nicollet Ave., 612-827-0505

- 4515 France Ave. S., 952-927-4439


's "Shabbat Night at the Movies"

Dec. 24, 6 p.m. - $10 for Chinese food (reserve by Dec. 22)

5000 Girard Ave S., 612-822-1440



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