Sunday, November 30, 2008


I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

The last day of November has arrived and one of my favorite times of year has begun. I love snow, crisp winter days, mountains, evergreens, and singing Christmas music.

As the oldest child growing up, I remember a lot about how our family Christmas traditions developed over the years. My parents grew up in families of German ancestry. When I was little my father's parents still spoke German at home, and went to church services in German. As newlyweds my parents moved from the Midwest to California, far away from their large extended families. So I think a lot of what we did was taken from my parents' memories of Christmas.

Our celebration of Christmas Eve in particular was different from most of my friends when I was young. We kids always participated in the Childrens' Service at our church in the late afternoons. Usually singing or reciting, or I'd be roped into playing the flute for hymns. After the service we'd go home and get ready for our favorite part of Christmas. Mom made a cold supper of hors d'oeuvres, including cold meats, cheese, crackers, shrimp cocktails, mandarin oranges, raw veggies with dip, herring in cream sauce, smoked oysters, pumpernickel bread, and olives. Dad would make his specialty of broiled bacon-wrapped water chestnuts. As we got older, putting together this special most-favorite meal of the year became a well-practiced ritual we all learned to help with.

After dinner we'd take our drinks and a tray of assorted homemade cookies, fudge, and fruitcake into the living room to sit around the Christmas tree. Our relatives out in the Midwest sent boxes of gifts to us every year. I think rather than have those overshadowed by Santa's presents on Christmas morning, my parents started the tradition of opening the relatives' gifts on Christmas Eve.

Dad played Santa, handing out the gifts one by one. He'd borrow a big reel-to-reel tape recorder from school and each of us would open a gift in turn, saying what it was and thanking the relative who gave it. Later the tape was mailed to the relatives. As technology progressed, it became a Super-8 movie, then a video cassette, and so on. All to share the joy with those far-away aunts, uncles and grandparents who'd been kind enough to mail us presents. Probably a lot easier for Mom than getting us to write thank-yous! We children loved this ritual. We thought it made Christmas last much longer. Who could complain about two days of opening presents! I think we came to like the night before more than Christmas Day.

About 11pm we'd all get wrapped up in our coats again and go to the Candlelight Carol service at church. It made for a long day, but it probably helped us sleep in later the next morning! 7:00 am instead of 6:00!

One thing I've added to my holiday preparations is making a wreath. That's was my project today. This time I used a plain grapevine wreath from the craft store, rather than a wire frame. I cut various evergreens and other things from around the garden to decorate it. This year is juniper and rose hips, with a string of battery-powered LED lights and a red cardinal. I think it turned out pretty nice. I have some ideas for adding different things, but I didn't manage to get the extra flower arranging supplies in time. Next year.

In a couple weeks my sister and I are going to have a cookie-making day. It's the day before the last Scottish dance class of the year, lucky for me. We'll make Kourabeides and frosted Datenut-spice cut-outs. The Kourabeides take 45 minutes in the oven then more time to roll in powdered sugar, so we'll just make a double batch of dough and take it home to do on our own. The cut-outs really need at least two people, especially when it comes to frosting them. I'll also make fudge, another pumpkin pie from scratch, and maybe some other cookies on another day. I bought the Fine Cooking "Cookies" magazine today and some of those recipes look pretty good.

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