December Food Festivals

By: Jose Ralat Maldonado
Candy Cane cookies

By now, we hope you’ve put a substantial dent in the Thanksgiving leftovers and are ready to move on for a couple more weeks until the Christmastime food festival drought starts. Until then, there will be warming beers, warm cookies and warm entertainment keeping the spirit alive.

Indio International Tamale Festival, Indio, Calif., Dec. 1-2: The Mexican treat of pre-Hispanic origin is a serious victual requiring a small workforce (i.e., large family) to produce. Perhaps that’s why tamales are really only prevalent during holidays, like Day of the Dead, the Christmas season and this two-day fiesta in Indio, which has been a staple since 1992. There will be a cook-off with traditional and gourmet categories as well as an eating contest punctuated by folkloric dancing and live music from four stages at this annual event named one of the top-10 “All-American Food Festivals” by Food Network.

Annual Chili Cook-Off and Christmas Parade, Antigo, Wis., Dec. 5: Who needs a Christmas ham when there’s chili to be had? It may be too early to think about Christmas dinner, but there’s always time for chili, especially at this 15th annual fete where traditional (no beans, please) and roughneck (with beans and all the fixin's, if you must) duke it out in a heated competition based on aroma, consistency, taste and texture. Also up for pitched battle is each booth's decor for the festival’s chili-themed decorating contest. After the cook-off, thousands of visitors can take part in the Christmas parade and its yuletide welcome.

Candy Cane Festival, Denver, Colo., Dec. 7-8: If this municipality is going to be a company town it could do worse than being the headquarters of Hammond’s Candies, makers of handcrafted confections since 1920 and host of this candy cane celebration. Activities and entertainment include free factory tours — with gratis samples, of course.

The Currier and Ives Cookie Tour, Monadnock region, N.H., Dec. 8: The makers of nineteenth-century lithographs representing New England winter scenes secured a place in American history when they were name-dropped in the quintessential Christmas carol “Sleigh Ride.” During this holiday homage to Kris Kringle’s preferred treat, attendees will be able to drop into bed-and-breakfasts and inns throughout this picturesque region of New Hampshire. Among the stops will be the burgs of Fitzwilliam, Jaffrey, Rindge, Marlborough and Swanzey, where folks will have the opportunity to munch on homemade snacks and refreshments. Those who hit all the participating businesses will be eligible for a gift certificate worth more than $100. Overindulging during the tour also helps the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce, who will use a portion of the proceeds to make sure local kids in need see a gift under their tree come Christmas morn.

Dallas Winter Warmer, Dallas, Texas, Dec. 15: The Big D’s only winter beer festival will give craft beer enthusiasts a chance to taste stouts, porters, barley wines, barrel-aged beers, cask beers and seasonal offerings from a mix of Texas and national operations. Participating brewers include Rahr & Sons, Saint Arnold, Lakewood and Real Ale, as well as Alaskan, Oskar Blues, Stone and Santa Fe. Each attendee starts with 12 two-ounce samples poured into a 6-ounce snifter, with an additional 10 samples going for $2. Small bites to soak up the intoxicating delights will be provided by Wolfgang Puck catering. There is sure to be something for every palate.

PEEPS Fest, Bethlehem, Pa., Dec. 30-31: While this sugary treat is more closely associated with Easter, the die-hard fans of the brightly colored, chick-shaped marshmallow confection can’t stop feting PEEPS. So why not for New Year’s? This two-day jamboree will include s’mores making, a diorama competition, a scavenger hunt and musical guests. The biggest attractions will be the 5K run — required to exhaust the sugar high — and the spectacular PEEPS chick drop and fireworks display. It’s going to be a rush.