The Gene Pool: JTR's Colorful Family History

Why do we have Oyster Stew on Christmas Eve?

I was wondering where our family tradition of OYSTER STEW on Christmas
Eve might have come from, so I sent a query out to my friends on the
Fidonet Genealogy Conference to see if anyone might know where
the custom originated. Nobody seemed to have an answer,
but here are some of the interesting replies I received!


"Does anyone out there celebrate Christmas Eve by serving Oyster Stew? Where did this tradition come from? My family knows our tradition came from my mother's father's family ... the PATETS (Late Arriving Prussians) or BALL/GLOVER (Puritan Early New England). This is a curiousity more than anything... I know other families out there follow this tradition but don't know where it came from either! I would imagine our GLOVERS living in and near Oyster Ponds, Long Island served up some great seafood! However, the kids of our family would rather NOT have to 'enjoy' the Oysters on Christmas Eve, thank you very much!"


My first husband's family the Yerks, always had oyster stew on Christmas Eve. It was really only milk and cream with oysters and a little butter and salt and pepper. It was delicious though! I still make it sometimes though I am not a Yerks anymore. The Yerks family is from Pennsylvania "Pennsylvania Dutch" which is really German? They came to the Ingham County Michigan area, I am not sure when. They do have some Yerks in New York state also. I suppose sometime I will *have* to work on this line with my daughter!

---- Katie Ann Bailey

My mother ALWAYS had oyster stew on Christmas Eve, and she gave to understand it was an old tradition in her family. Both sides of her family came into Missouri from Va, NC, Tenn, Ky, etc. I do not think it was a tradition with my father who was raised in So. Indiana from Yankee stock. Living in a small town in SW Mo, I was given to understand buying fresh oysters was a very special event. In fact, that was the only fresh seafood we ever ate, as she thought fish was probably not good for you, and considering the state of refrigeration, she was probably right. Anyway, I knew oysters were expensive, but something one had to do for supper (that's what we called it) on Dec. 24. She used to say it was a southern custom, although I doubt she was very aware of what that meant, as she was born in Missouri as was her mother. I think it interesting that she didn't serve black-eyed peas on New Years Day for good luck, as I understand that is a very old southern custom. Many of my friends here in the Ozarks still do that. Anyway I hope this has been helpful. I am sure you will get lots of responses and perhaps you can chart regional patterns from them.

---- Richard Niles

This was one of the traditions that went with being "grown up" when I was young, still like Oyster Stew but the tradition died with my parents. Another was fried kippers for the New Year. I have absolutely no idea where or when these originated. Will be interested in seeing other responses.

---- Conrad Bullard

My wife's family always served oyster stew on Christmas Eve and so has our family now. We are French-Canadian, so I where is the tie-in? Must be a lot further back than the current boundaries of Europe.

---- Les Arseneau

Well, for as long as I can remember, Oyster Stew has been a traditional Christmas Eve dinner in my father's family. I don't know for sure where the whole thing got started, but I'll be sure to ask him. For some reason, I think it comes from his mother's side of the family, but she's a MILLS/MOBLEY and from the south-east United States (Carolinas & Georgia). If it happened to come from Granddaddy's line, we could have the same problem; they too are from the south-east (Georgia & Alabama). I'll let you know what I find out.

---- Kirby Smithe

PMFJI -- all my VA-German relatives have oyster stew on Christmas Eve for dinner. My 90+ yr old GM remembers her GF bringing home the oysters, so it's been around a while. The fried kippers are veddy veddy british.

---- Cheryl Singhal

I grew up in SE OH where we also had the Oyster stuffing tradition. Both sides of my family had migrated to OH from Western VA in early 1800s. Corn bread was "and is" a favorite of the whole family. Wish I had some day old corn bread to crush up in a bowl with milk (skimmed, nowadays) for breakfast. 'Love it! Some of my Irish/English kin had been Quakers - turned Baptist... with a fair number of ministers in each branch. Enjoy these observations, Carl

---- Carl Lambert

Joanne, good move! Sometimes these peripatetic family traditions can indicate a culture of origin--with the caveat that folks sometimes attribute a custom to one side of their family when it was really the other side. You are right to search for this. Coastal Tidewater Virginia people always put oysters into their turkey stuffing at Thanksgiving time, often to the dismay of their children growing up farther inland. Deep South folks often have cornbread stuffing with the turkey, disdaining the soggy white bread used in the north. (I have heard Joel's Great-Aunt Antoinette say, "T'aint fit to eat!").

The best clue for my CRANE search has been the fact that NC, SC, and Georgia CRANEs had a tradition of tea-drinking and "English" food customs, even when surrounded by Cajuns, French, Spanish, Indian, and oh-what-all. The peas here, the potatoes over there, the roast over there, and hardly touching each other on the plate. NO CASSEROLES. No Jambalaya. No Etoufee. No Gumbo. No she-crab soup in Charleston and Savannah. No spices but salt and pepper, and pepper was a little far-out! You can imagine that I am making the most of this as I keep on searching for the origins of these Southern CRANEs. That and the rumors that "CRANEs came from New Jersey but don't tell anybody because we don't want people to think we are Yankees."

Good luck with your Christmas oyster stew question. Hope it pays off. Best Regards

---- Elsie Savell

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