Since we’re more Tiny Tim than Scrooge about the holidays, we decided that we’d put together some of our favorite holiday traditions, some recipes for treats and some music ideas. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!
I know I’m not alone in thinking that Christmas is the best time of the year. Sure, it’s cold and it’s one of the most stressful times for a lot of people, but if you’re lucky enough to have a family support system like I do, it’s the best. Everyone shuts up about their problems, enjoys each other’s company, sings some songs and there’s oodles of treats and snacks for an entire month.
Great Aunt Ruth’s Sugar Cookies :: We are a Christmas cookie family. There’s many beloved recipes from both my father and mother’s side, but none are more delicious than my Aunt Ruth’s sugar cookies.
How can something with an entire cup of butter be bad? It can’t. With a bit of almond extract and cream of tartar, they’re excellently snickerdoodley and we always pile on the sprinkles.
Christmas Candlelighting Service :: I don’t go to church much, but now that I’ve moved back to Colorado, I never miss playing in our annual church orchestra concert. It’s the only time of year I play violin anymore, and it’s great fun to break out the holiday tunes (and maybe even practice on my own occasionally). Plus, the service itself is pretty awesome. Everyone gets a candle, the lights get completely turned off and there’s about 5 minutes where every face is lit only by their candle. It’s quiet and beautiful and the perfect respite from a crazy December.
Pickle Ornament :: I know we stole this from somewhere, but we’ve made it our own. “Santa” hides the pickle ornament somewhere on the tree Christmas Eve, and the kids get an extra small present (or crisp $20) if you find it. I may or may not dominate at finding it, and it’s a crushing defeat when I don’t. It’s all in good fun, even the year when my Uncle Rick (ahem, sorry, Santa Rick) put the ornament in the tree’s water and we didn’t find it until the next day. It would have been fine except my dad was trying out putting bleach in the tree water to help keep it healthy through Christmas, and our formerly bright green pickle was bleached silver. We bought a new, smaller pickle to hide, but we still have the silver one in memory.
Watching ALL the Holiday Movies & Specials :: As evidenced by our Required Viewing series, a good Christmas movie or special isn’t hard to find, it’s more difficult to decide which ones are the priority. They’re on TV all the time and even the obscure ones can be found on the internet. Muppet Christmas Carol is probably my absolute favorite, but I also greatly enjoy (in no particular order): It’s a Wonderful Life, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Santa is such an unrelenting ass in the Burl Ives version), A Garfield Christmas Special, The Christmas Toy (This one’s super obscure but it’s a Jim Henson production and has a quick cameo from Kermit. If you had the TV recording on VHS like we still do, you can watch the Kraft commercial interstitials with some excellent ’80s cooking), The Family Stone, The Holiday, Love Actually and last but not least, A Claymation Christmas Special. (“Say goodnight Herb!” “Goodnight, Herb.”)
Portuguese Roast on Christmas Day :: We’ve never done turkey on Christmas. In fact, the intricacies of what my family does and doesn’t eat on each holiday would be a post in and of itself, but my favorite meal of the year has to be the Portuguese roast. It’s a prime rib roast coated in olives and paprika, a seasonal special that a butcher shop in Longmont does. My grandmother used to make this every year (this might go back farther, but I’d have to ask my dad) and when she was no longer with us, we decided to keep it going. It smells unbelievable when it’s cooking and pairs excellently with mashed potatoes. I can’t wait.
Stan Kenton’s Orchestra :: Tell me you’re not sick of the easy listening station in your city by about mid-November. They play the standards but they also play some of the least interesting versions of songs. My personal favorite (inherited directly from my dad) is the Stan Kenton Orchestra Christmas album. This year, I got even more creative and entered that into a new Pandora station and I wish I’d done it years ago. I’m getting jazzy, big band versions of all of the Christmas favorites from Kenton, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, Sinatra and more. I highly, highly recommend.
I don’t think I have quite as many traditions in total as AM has favorite traditions, but I too love this time of year. I’ll echo Annemarie in the eating of roast (we go standard Prime Rib) and the watching of all of the holiday movies — even a few bad Hallmark ones for good measure. Most of the rest of the traditions I associate with the holiday aren’t especially idyllic — someone forgetting the rolls in the oven on my mom’s side of the family. My dad forgetting every single year how long a Prime Rib takes to cook. Risking getting the meat sweats from eating Prime Rib with my Dad on Christmas Eve and my Mom on Christmas. Getting birthday presents (Dec. 23 baby here) wrapped in Christmas paper. All of that is what Christmas means to me, and I can’t imagine it any other way. I do have a few more formalized traditions that I look forward to, however.
Christmas Pajamas :: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been allowed to open exactly one present with my Mom on Christmas Eve. This present is always new pajamas. Why? So you have something cute and cozy to wear while you’re opening gifts, of course! This is something I am certain my grandmother started, as she loved pajamas a great deal herself, but even in the years she stayed with us, she would break the rules, get up early and sneak around getting fully ready. The rebel. It’s our fourth Christmas without her, but I still ask myself every year what she would have picked out when I go looking for my Mom’s.
Stuffing Stockings :: Growing up as an only child with a single mom, I always took a pretty active role in the Christmas prep and planning. And as soon as I was old enough to know the full deal with Christmas and go shopping quite alone, I started getting all of the trinkets for my mom’s stocking. It’s always a place where I’ve been able to play fast and loose or go with the classics as I see fit. I always buy way too much and I always revel in struggling to cram as much into the stocking as possible. We always stuff on opposite ends of the hallway upstairs and then carrying the stockings downstairs together with a chorus of “stop cheating” and “quit trying to look.” The pair of them are way too heavy to hang by this point, so we stash them on the kitchen table just before heading to bed.
Strata :: I actually insisted we swipe this tradition from The Family Stone. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recall the egg dish that Meredith makes for breakfast on Christmas morning. You know, the one that gets spilled all over the place? Well, in real life it’s really damn delicious. There are a lot of variations of the recipes, but here’s the gist of what you need to know: bread. eggs. cheese. ham. onion. spices. Basically, it’s all things that are good and delightful in one glorious comfort food assembly. We pop it in the oven before we start opening presents and smell the glorious smells as we rip into all of that paper.
31 and Other Competitions :: My family (on either side) is big into playing games at gatherings. Christmases spent at my Mom’s parent’s house always found us playing 31. Basically, I learned to be ruthlessly competitive at a very young age. There are too few of us now for a properly drawn out and fierce game of 31, but we never get together without playing a game of some sort. Be it cards, Qwirkle, Skip Bo, Exploding Kittens or Secret Hitler, if we’re together, we’re competing. If Festivus were a more mainstream deal we would almost certainly observe the feats of strength.