There are winter festivals around the world in every culture I know, and all of them are steeped in the history of years gone by.
The holiday season is full of traditions. But there is no book that can tell you how to “do” Christmas or any other special celebration. You must know the family recipes for every treat and just how to decorate, what music to play… even within our own families we cannot always agree on how things should go.
When I was little, the biggest debate between my brother and I was how to decorate the shortbread cookies [recipe link: https://happygourmand.wordpress.com/recipe-archives/moms-shortbread-cookies/ ]. We could never agree what colour of sprinkles should go where or if stars tasted better than trees. (Childhood is always full of the most profound dilemmas.) We did agree that John Denver & the Muppets had the best Christmas album.
As I got older, the world became a smaller place, and the kitchen became a more adventurous place. My mom decided the turkey stuffing could have nuts in it, and maybe a few dried cranberries. My dad was crushed, but as long as the apple salad stayed the same he was willing to compromise. (Apple salad in our house was made with whipped cream and apples, absolutely NOT with mayonnaise. And a few years later it had nuts in it, too.)
One thing that didn’t change throughout my growing up was that we always made pizza on Christmas Eve. It was always a special treat – my mom made the crust and tomato sauce from scratch, she and my dad would chop up pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, peppers; my brother or I got to grate the mozzarella. (I refuse to comment on the pineapple debate.) We often ate at 8 pm, as many years there were still gifts that needed wrapping on Christmas Eve. But we always got it all done.
I was incredibly fortunate to grow up in a close family. We did many things together, and Christmas was full of family traditions involving all of us. But we did love to share. Many years at Christmas dinner there were single friends of my parents that graced our table (they always had wonderful new stories we hadn’t heard before).
There was one year we tried holding a tree decorating party. My mom made some appies and set out the family collection of glass ornaments. (We had already put on the lights and reflectors to save some time.) The guests enjoyed the veggies with my favourite cream cheese & crushed pineapple dip, and my brother’s cherished cheese & pimento went down well on Ritz crackers. But they botched up the tree horribly. We made a family decision not to repeat that trauma again.
Every year had its special memories, and oddly enough it is the bumpy ones I remember most fondly. When my mom broke her leg at my Brownie skating party and my dad had to cook Christmas dinner, it seemed to bring us all closer together. The year my dad ended up in hospital on Christmas Eve with heart troubles, Santa didn’t miss a beat – he came to see us three days later to fit with our rescheduled Christmas. The spirit of the season always prevailed.
I know now that the magic of Christmas does have a lot to do with the magic we have within ourselves, and just how freely we share it with others. I am so blessed to have had parents who gave so much of themselves so that I could develop my own magic skills.
I will be keeping a tradition alive with my new granddaughter this year, reading her “The Night Before Christmas” just as my mom did for my brother and me. It will be by Zoom, but we will make it happen.
My mom is keeping the tradition of pizza-making, too – even though I can’t have a piece as she is in Mexico. We will share virtual hugs and toasts on screen, and I know I will feel the magic in the air.
By the time you read this, most of the traditions will have been unwrapped and you will likely be groaning with a full tummy. I hope you are surrounded by the warmth of loved ones, even if like me this year, your warmth is from memories and traditions. They can tide us over until the people are back.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.