Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Traditions

I have always loved Christmas, a LOT.

Growing up, Christmas was truly magical. There were traditions; going to the Christmas tree farm, with saw in hand and cutting down our tree, decorating said tree while we all felt habitually sicker and sicker (years later we would discover we are all allergic to pine trees and half of us are allergic to the gluten and sulphites in the cookies we were scarfing down), baking a kajillion cookies (extra sulphites added), playing the Nutcracker Suite and Holiday Classics records (I'm old, get over it.) and the Midnight Mass cassette tapes (see, not that old).  I clearly remember the excitement we felt on Christmas Eve, tucked in our beds, when no one was stirring, not even a...oh, wait, no.  My mom was definitely up.  Filling stockings, finishing icing the Christmas Stollen bread and making sure there were tater tots for the eggy casserole goodness that passed as our only non-sugar food source until the turkey dinner.

why, yes, the 154 million feet of lighted garland is a pain to fluff and wrap around the banisters. but totally worth it.

We didn't "do" Santa.  My dad had the traumatic experience, as a lad of five, of hiding behind the wing back chair in the living room, to catch Santa and discovering it was his mother putting the presents under the tree.  It was 1950 and Christmas was a sham and his mother a liar.  He started drinking heavily and doubting the existence of God or something along those lines.  So, yeah, we never "did" Santa in our house.

our school does a Kindergarten Polar Express parade every year.  the parents have to make a train car out of a box for their youngling.  this was one of the dodgiest, most slap dash cars there.  people in this town need to get a life.
My family now-a-days don't "do" Santa either.  For many and various reasons that I'm not really interested in debating.  Seriously, immediately following religion and politics, nothing gets people more het up than voicing your views on the jolly old elf.  I think it's really what started WW2.  Poland was all "Santa's the real deal.  You're all killing the magic of Christmas." and Hitler was all "Oh yeah?  Well, the Easter Bunny's a sham too!" and then there was much bloodshed.

Four Little Birds.  Making light of history's darkest hours since 2010.

he was known for his excellent finger strength due to strenuous daily digit exercises.

Anywho, we have shared the real story of Saint Nicholas with our kiddos.  So they know who he is.  And they have been threatened with all kinds of wrath should they utter the truth to any other children.  We have explained that some parents like to "play" Santa with their kids and it's not up to us to interfere.

Last Christmas an older gentleman, standing in line with us at the grocery store checkout, asked Neill (then four) if Santa was coming to his house.  Neill gave him an impatient look and said "Of course not!  Santa's DEAD."

Needless to say, the elderly gentleman looked at me like I had just clubbed a sack of baby seals to death.

My parents didn't need Santa to make Christmas magical.  You know, it really is true that you don't understand how much your parents did for you growing up until you are a parent.  Christmas wasn't magical all on it's own.  My parents made it magical.  They instilled the traditions.  They spent time with us and allowed us to be involved in all the excitement and celebration of our Savior's birth.  They climbed step ladders in the cold to hang big, colored lights on the house (which I still think are pure, unspeakable delight), they spent weeks staying up well past midnight to sew little dresses for our dolls and fairy ballet costumes for us.  And it was all wrapped up and surrounded by what Sufjan Stevens calls "that creepy Christmas feeling".  That other-worldly, Word-become-flesh, God incarnate thing that transports us all from our comfortable suburban reality into a stable where an inexperienced teen girl and a nervous carpenter somehow delivered God himself safely into the world, screaming and covered in amniotic fluid.

"my mother leaves me on the floor under the tree. but aren't I adorable?"

The story of Jesus' birth is very intentional in our celebration of Christmas.  We enjoy our advent calender.  Each day yields a chocolate treat and a couple verses from the first two chapters of the book of Luke.  Candy and scripture is often paired together in my house.  After all, in Biblical times they would give children pieces of honeycomb for memorizes parts of the Torah.  It's ok to teach your children that the Word of God yields good things in our lives.

Every year my kids "help" decorate the tree (admittedly fake. allergies, you know).  They usually hang a couple ornaments and then wander off to play a computer game or spill something sticky.  This year though, they hung every ornament.  Every. German. Hand. Blown. Glass. Ornament.  It was terrifying.  There was such speed and excitement and loudness.  And yet, not a single ornament was broken.  See?  Existence of God proven.

And I am proud of myself.  Because I let them do it and I decided that even if one broke, it wouldn't be the end of the world.  Or even that important.  unless it was the cuckoo clock or the giant mushroom or the bluebird or the weird toadstool gnome guy.

And after they went to bed, I moved half the ornaments up north.  And hid the pickle deep in the branches at the back of the tree.  On Christmas Eve, they go searching for it and whoever finds it gets a little prize.  Usually a forgotten chocolate from a missed day in the advent calender or something equally lame.  I'm only one woman here, people.

every year we have a little snowflake cutting party on the first cold night of winter.

We also make a lot of cookies.  This year I've made one batch regular and a half a batch gluten and dairy free of my favorite recipes.  And so, as a little week before Christmas gift, I will leave you with my recipe for Chocolate Candy Cane Crackles, gluten and dairy free!

yeah, they kinda look like poo, but trust me, they are SOOO delicious.

Chocolate Candy Cane Crackles

1 1/4 c. rice flour (or preferred gluten free flour, fine flour works best)
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. Earth Balance vegan margarine
1/3 c. l. brown sugar, packed
1/3 c. sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. candy canes, finely crushed

1. Preheat oven 350*.  Grease cookie sheet
2. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine until thoroughly mixed.
3. Combine butter and sugars. Cream. Add egg and vanilla, beat to combine.
4. With mixer on low, spoon in dry ingredients; mix to combine. Add crushed candy, mix until evenly combined.
5. Spoon dough into 1" scoops. Place 3" apart and flatten slightly. Bake 10-12 min.
6. Remove sheet from oven and immediately use a metal spatula to neaten any edges where any candy may have melted out. Let cookies cool for 5 minutes on sheet.  Transfer to waxed paper or wire cooling rack.  Makes 4 dozen.

Thanks for the early Christmas present, husband!  I love being able to listen to Pandora through real! speakers while I bake.

Merry Soon-To-Be Christmas!


  1. I love how you put real into elegant!

  2. simply wonderful post, it is full of so so much, thank you for sharing and taking the time to write it all for us, what a treat!!! really enjoyed the pics too!

  3. I am trying to locate your email address?
    thank you for coming by my blog, was so interesting to read that you were a dancer too, and when you hung up the shoes. oh you should take a class!
    looks like you and i have lots in common I AM OBSESSED WITH BIRDS TOO!!! Nice to meet you!

  4. Hi all! I updated my profile so I am now e-mailable! Thanks for cluing me into this oversight ginanorma!