C is for cookies for Santa. My earliest memories of baking cookies is when my mother taught me how to make the peanut butter with the Hershey Kiss variation. I was probably seven or eight years old the first time I made them for Kissmas. It became my signature trademark for the holidays and I have since passed the tradition onto my children. We also make sugar cookies a.k.a. “cut outs”. I have used this recipe since 1990 and I will continue to use it anytime there is a need for sugar cookies - especially for Santa. I have found it helpful to make the batch but split it in half. We use one half for Christmas and freeze the other half (raw) to use for Valentine’s Day or any other holiday that could use a cut out cookie for celebration. One day I will throw another Cookie Exchange. My wish would be to host one at the end of summer. We could all make our holiday cookies to exchange and then freeze them so that when the holidays roll around we are ready. I would still insist on making some cookies with the kids as we prepare for Santa’s arrival because there is something magical about fresh baked cookies.
H is for houses. As in the gingerbread kind of houses. My mother-in-law started a wonderful tradition of making gingerbread houses with my daughter when she was 4 years old. This year, when she was visiting for Thanksgiving, they ran out of time so they were unable to make one together. However, a day or two after she left, we received a lovely, very detailed and amazing gingerbread house (thoughtful pinch to the extreme!). It has been such a joy to display for the holidays. Last year we had a couple of houses because at our club holiday party the kids made another one. The kids have a blast making houses, whether it’s with gingerbread, shortbread or graham crackers.
R is for remembering. I love unpacking all the decorations and knowing which ones were gifts from friends and family. We have received thoughtful pinches throughout the years that mean so much to me. I use a Sharpie to write the year and the giver’s names on each item because if I don’t, I will forget. Some are dated back in the 90’s. I think remembering is the best part about decorating.
I is for imagination. Ever since the Elf on a Shelf came to our house back in 2008 I have had to use my imagination. And thanks to my cousin who gave us another one in 2009, I have had to use it twice as much. The premise of the Elf didn’t really work in my house because every time I would point out that my kids were being watched by their elves it was almost as if my kids cared less about being good for Santa. It was only after a couple of times the elves didn’t move, that my kids realized their presents were in jeopardy and they started to behave. I would wake up, after a full night of wine, to crying children because their elves didn’t move from the spot. My imagination would kick into high gear and a story about why the elves didn’t move would come out of my mouth. “Let’s see, well I’m sure the elf saw you fighting with your brother yesterday so that could be why they stayed in place. They didn’t fly back to Santa.” Once there was a typed note that said that the elves were not going to move if they kept fighting. Or the time that I got a text telling me that something came up so they stayed in their spot. This is the first year, I have used my imagination in hiding the elves.
S is for sweater (as in ugly sweater) and steak. These are two very new traditions that I hope will continue for years to come. We have been invited to an ugly sweater party for the last three years. I love the thrill of trying to top the next guy with a hideous sweater. Such a fun party. For all the effort and time I put into making our Christmas special for my kids, my mom and my husband, I believe my reward is on Christmas day we have steak for dinner. Last year my husband and I went for a run around Lake Harriet, came home and showered, then went downtown. We sat at the bar of one of the best steakhouses in MPLS and had a drink while we waited for our dinner to be prepared “to go”. It was a mini date and I loved it. We came home with our warm, delicious, over-priced meal and shared it with the family. There was no stress or pressure for making dinner, the clean up was minimal, our tummies were full and I was so happy for the alone time with the hub. The magic of Christmas.
T is for tree and tamales. For the past 8 years we have bought our tree at the very same tree lot. It’s in the neighborhood, the profits are supposedly donated to a wonderful cause and they give out donut holes. All the right reasons to buy a tree from this lot. I have loved all of the trees we have bought from them. Last year our tree was 12 feet tall. This year our tree is only 7 feet tall. No matter what, my mom does all the tree decorating and she does a great job making any tree into a masterpiece. When I was growing up, our house used to look like Christmas threw up all over - there were decorations in every nook and cranny - but it looked very cheerful and fun thanks to my mom. But now that she’s been coming to be with us (her eleventh Christmas), she doesn’t get the chance to decorate her house the way she used to. So I welcome her into my home and she does her thing with the tree and puts up all the lights around the house. I’m so lucky! Something the hub has incorporated into our traditions, merging some of our CA roots into our MPLS lifestyle, is eating homemade tamales for our Christmas Eve dinner. For the last five years we have come home from the Christmas performance and mass to an easy, flavorful meal.
M is for mass. When my hub and I first started celebrating the holidays together we found that our families’ traditions were completely opposite which actually worked out better for all of us. Well, sort of. In my family, we would gather for Christmas Eve dinner and go to mid-night mass. Around here mid-night mass is at 10pm. We would come home, eat a mid-night snack like chicken and rice soup and we would open all of our presents. The next day, we would roll out of bed late and lounge the entire day or go to the movies. My hub’s family would not do anything until Christmas Day so my experience would be to party all night with my family and then have to get up to be with his family which started with breakfast, opening gifts and then getting dressed up for a big dinner. So as you can see, although there was no clashing of plans for our family traditions, it made for a very long celebration. Now that we have kids, our mass is the 5pm mass on Christmas Eve because it follows the Christmas Performance that our daughter has been a part of for six years. Precious. FYI, our son decided last year that he was too cool for the performance and has opted to watch. #theFonz. When my daughter decides that she does not want to be in the performance anymore (which I hope is never), I may start taking them to the “mid-night” mass.
A is for Advent calendar and wreath. My sister-in-law gave our kids their first Advent calendars. They get a treat each day from December first to the twenty-fifth. I have since continued the tradition and love to see the joy as they find each date and compare candies. And every year we make our Advent wreath at the church during a pizza-eating-evergreen-cutting event. Years ago, my mother-in-law taught us how to decorate the wreaths with little colorful ornaments and a hot glue gun. We light a candle each week for four weeks on the Sundays leading up to Christmas and pray for the light to carry us thru. These Advent traditions are great ways for my family to count down to the big day.
S is for stockings. Maybe I’ve shared this story before but I love how the stocking became a tradition in my family. Years after college, one of my roomies would get a stocking from her mom even though she was over 21 years old. I would watch her pull out item after item from her stocking when she would return from being home for the holiday. It was cool. I was jealous. There were every day items like toothpaste and a nail file but then there was a cute keychain and makeup. I vowed that I would do that for my kids. I honestly enjoy buying stocking stuffers WAY MORE than buying the heavy duty wish items. Years ago my daughter pointed out that I didn’t get anything in my stocking so I told her that it was because I wasn’t very good that year. But you bet I filled my stocking every year since then and I LOVE the little gifts I get myself. Hmmmm, could it be because I really do enjoy thoughtful pinches?
May all of your holiday traditions, new and old, become your f-a-v-o-r-i-t-e-s.