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Christmas is My Thing

(New Spins on Old Traditions from a Christmas Nerd)

I admit I’m not the most traditional person in the world. I’m not religious, I’ve never baked a turkey and the only item of Christmas clothing I own is a pair of candy-cane striped Chuck Taylor’s.

I am, however, nutty over many Christmas traditions and I’ve done my fair share of creating my own new traditions. I love decorating a tree, baking cookies, wrapping presents and driving around with my family to see Christmas lights. The Yule Log channel that comes with my cable TV subscription makes me happy. I live in Florida where the air conditioning is usually on during the holidays so the pretend fire on my television really gives everything some much needed ambiance.

I collect vintage glass ornaments and have so many it takes me two days to decorate my tree. I insist on a real tree because of the smell- heavenly to me! I buy the kind with the soft needles because I don’t like having to worry about the clean-up. My daughter gave me an electronic tree watering sensor that blinks when the tree needs to be watered. She also gave me another gizmo that allows the tree to be watered without crawling underneath- it’s a long clear tube that attaches to one of the upper branches with a special watering cup that keeps me from spilling. I’m old and hate having to get down on the floor- this ingenious device keeps me from having to go through that needless bit of trauma.

I’m currently working on a new garland for my tree, made of embroidered discs of felt. Christmas crafts are my hobby through the year. I’m not far enough along on my garland to use it this year but by next year it will add a new bit of pizzazz to my tree. I am unafraid of color.

I also have most of the materials to make a tree skirt for my daughter out of vintage silk ties. It will look like a crazy quilt when I’m finished. I’m still collecting the ties.

Some traditions are made of nostalgia. We make a big production out of filling Christmas stockings and our stockings are handmade. Mine was made by my paternal grandmother, my daughter’s by my mother and since my husband and step-daughter came to this all a bit later in the game they already had hand crafted needlepoint stockings. They don’t know the roots of them (does that seem as strange to you as it does to me?). When we added my son-in-law to the celebration I made a stocking for him. He is a paramedic- his stocking has an ambulance on it made from felt and beads and sequins.

Stocking stuffers are small and inexpensive, selected specifically for the recipient. I grew up with my parents putting the same things in our stockings year after year- a tangerine in the toe, a tiny Whitman’s sampler, a handful of Hershey’s kisses (the ones wrapped in red or green just for Christmas) a deck of cards from my Dad’s company and a small hand held puzzle game. There would be a striped candy cane draped over the top edge. It was nice. It was standard. It was reliable.

Stockings and the things that stuff them, at my house, are meant to be one of Christmas morning’s highlights. We do this first and we show each other what we have gotten. Our stockings mark where we are assigned to sit and include things like special candies that include the recipients favorite flavors, tiny bags of coffee, packages of spiced nuts, funny socks, beef jerky in unusual flavors, vegetable or flower seed packets, etc. My husband gives out lottery scratch offs. My daughter gives out cute pencils/erasers, mini-shampoo, tiny anything. My step-daughter goes for laughs. She puts in things like those Jelly Belly jellybeans that taste gross. Or fart machines.

Last year I got a miniature cheese grater in my stocking. It is one of my favorite things.

I start my Christmas cookie baking in time to send some out as gifts. I make recipes that came down from both of my grandmothers and my Mom’s brownies. My new tradition includes Christmas themed cookies made from bit and pieces of other things- such as the pictures below show. I’m sure these would delight children but let me be honest- there are no children involved here. I just think they look great on a cookie platter.

Polar Bear faces made with Oreo’s cookies dipped in white chocolate with blue M & M’s noses and black frosting eyes.

Square pretzels topped with melted Hershey’s Hugs Kisses and red and green M & M’s. I flip the M & M’s to the non-logo side.

These are made with green frosting (heavy on the powdered sugar) with melted white chocolate snow and (you guessed it!) more M & M’s for decorations.

And there are cookie and candy and treat requests each year. I make Chex-mix and give everyone their own tub of it. The fudge, pictured below, is something my husband craves all year but he gets only during the Christmas holidays.

Everyone loves this chocolate fudge topped with crushed Starlight mint candies.

When my daughter has more than a few days she can spare, vacation wise, we make traditional Christmas cookies with cutters and royal icing. The more intricate the better. My step-daughter might drift in and out but she lacks the patience for this work. My son-in-law excels at the detail work. We spend all day working on them. This year we are planning Hello Kitty reindeer and Santas and Pick-up Trucks with Christmas trees in the back. In real life I drive a red pick-up.

I save little bits and pieces of things all year long for embellishing wrapped packages. I find stuff at thrift stores, garage sales and estate sales. In January during the post holiday sales I try to get deep discounts on gift tags and cards and decors and ribbons. I make paper snowflakes to decorate solid colored wrapping paper. During the holidays I keep everything out on a table and organized for everyone to use to wrap their presents. I also save all of our previous years trims and bags for everyone to reuse.

We have our own family traditions of foods that I only serve at Christmas. Breakfast on Christmas morning is an Orange and Cream Cheese Breakfast Ring. It is a big sugar bomb. If I didn’t make this every year I think my step-daughter would quit coming over on Christmas Day.

I was raised, for the most part, in Texas where there is a strong Hispanic tradition of eating Tamales during the holidays. I order them from Texas. It is expensive but they are so delicious. Without them I wouldn’t feel like the holidays were real. Last year I didn’t order them to save money and we had Tamales from Trader Joe’s. Not the same. This year I’m back to ordering.

Christmas dinner is one of our most unique traditions. We have hors d’oeuvres. Only hors d’oeuvres. Tiny homemade cheese biscuits with ham and gruyere are the only standard fixture because someone gifts us a ham every year. Since it is a huge ham I make these little sandwiches trying to use it up. But we have lots of different things to eat like dips, fancy cheeses with fancy crackers and any recipes for hors d’oeuvres that I find and save on pinterest during the year. Last year we had Southern Egg Rolls- these were filled with pulled pork and cole slaw, fried and served with white barbeque sauce. Meh. Won’t be serving them this year.

While we eat dinner we play dominoes. This is also a new tradition. Funny though, now everyone in my extended family plays dominoes on Christmas night. Texans. This is what we do I guess.

At some point during the holiday we go out in a car together and look at our town’s best Christmas lights. I make a thermos of something hot to drink and we bring cookies to snack on.

My marriage is my second. My first husband died. When my first husband was alive he was really into the gifting part of Christmas. He would get so excited about what he bought me he would inevitably make me guess what it could be by giving me hints and I would end up, at his urging, opening my present on Christmas Eve. Then I would re-wrap it so that it could go back under the tree for Christmas morning. We would sit in the dark with the tree lights on, cuddling and basking in good feelings. I miss him more on Christmas Eve night than any other time during the year.

My new husband isn’t so into all of this as me. That’s fine. He figures out where the good light displays are. (One year he found a house where the people had llamas and miniature horses that they let us feed and pet!) He purchases the lotto scratch offs and he enjoys eating all of the great food I make. He just likes having the family all together. He participates. It’s all good.

I work like a dog to get it all together. After the holidays I pack it all away with care. And wait for the next one. New traditions are still traditions. It is what I savor the most. My daughter gets it more than anyone else.

I give her vintage Christmas decor every year. So, she continues the tradition of making new traditions. I guess in this way, I go on into the future.