We are the world! Here, how to host a family gathering or a New Year's fete with a multi-cultural tasting party menu.

When Jolanta Petrycha remembers her childhood Christmases in Poland, she recalls the scent of a freshly cut tree set up and decorated on Dec. 24, an extra place setting at the table in case an unexpected friend or stranger showed up and a large carp swimming in the bathtub.

The latter, she explains, would eventually find its way onto the table as part of Wigilia, the Polish Christmas Eve feast, but to ensure freshness, the fish had to be kept alive as long as possible. "My parents, grandmother, brother and I all lived in an apartment, so there was no other place to put it," laughs the 58-year-old Torontonian who, along with her husband and children, immigrated to Canada in 1983.

Like most Canadians, Petrycha's present-day celebrations include a blend of old and new traditions with strict adherence to some rules, the bending or obliteration of others. She's maintained the custom of serving 12 meatless dishes – one for each Apostle – and while her husband's homemade uszka, dumplings, are a must, she sometimes cheats and includes bread as a serving. Regrettably, the Polish tradition of serving dinner only after someone spots the first star in the evening sky was lost, but, on the upside, says Petrycha, so too was the carp.

Dawn Johnston, a professor at University of Calgary who teaches a food culture course, says that our desire to follow family traditions stems from the need to connect with our pasts. Smell and taste are powerful memory senses, and so food is a sort of gateway drug. "Through food, we evoke our youth and recapture happy times."

But what about folks whose holidays weren't always ideal?

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