My parents knew how to make Christmas special. For my mom, it was the highlight of the year–especially once she had grandchildren. I feel blessed that my boys and their cousins grew up with Christmases brimming with anticipation, secrets and surprises, and the wonder of childhood. Mom would start buying presents early…and then forget all that she had bought. She was determined to spend the same amount on every child and grandchild, so then she’d have to go buy more to even up the piles. Ai-yi-yi. By the time Christmas arrived, the mound was amazing, and my poor dad would spend days trapped in the basement wrapping.
But to them it was worth it all to see the open-mouthed, bright-eyed expressions of wonder on their grandchildren’s faces when they came downstairs on Christmas morning to a city of wrapped gifts surrounding the big tree, decorated with a pleasing disarray of antique glass ornaments, kid-made ornaments, and the popcorn garland they had strung on their first Christmas together. (That string of popcorn lasted more than forty years!) Now that my parents have been gone a few years now, Christmases are just not the same. So I’m glad for this excuse to pause and reminisce about the wonder years.
Our typical Christmas schedule was:
- We would serve appetizers with extended family, and the kids got to open one gift.
- Everyone would leave one of their actual socks (clean, ideally) on the stairs in age order for Santa to fill (We didn’t have a fireplace). My brothers, with their huge feet, scored big time.
Christmas Eve Appetizers (partial list).
- Mini pigs in blankets—a favorite with the kids
- Reuben sandwiches on mini cocktail rye and baked. Yum.
- Shrimp and cocktail sauce (ketchup, horseradish, fresh lemon)
- Liver and onions (ick; but Uncle Al liked them, so…)
- Meatballs, crab dip, crackers and cheese, veggies and dip
- Homemade cookies and candy, etc.
- Early risers could look in their stockings as soon as they awoke but had to wait for everyone to be up before starting on gifts. (If you slept too long, Grandma would helpfully blast Christmas music to wake up any laggers.) Stockings held a collection of toiletries and treats: new toothbrushes, candy, perhaps a Matchbox car or mini doll. For grown kids: mini perfumes, aftershave, nail polish, etc.
- We put the coffee on and the cookies out, and then sat around the living room in our jammies to admire the amazing display of wrapped gifts. Someone played “Santa” and passed out a few presents for each person, and then we’d open one at a time, again in age order, everyone watching to “ooh” and “ah.” The grandkids received toys, of course, and perhaps clothes. Grown-ups received clothes, books, tools, etc. Most gifts were not big-ticket items. My brothers would get excited about a new package of socks or underwear (my older brother insisting on pulling a pair over his sweats to model them for us then and there). Odd gifts like huge flashlights and funny cold weather gear were also big hits with my quirky family.
- Somewhere in the middle we would take a break for more cookies and then begin again. Later, we would dress in our new clothes. After church, it was off to our aunt and uncle’s house for Christmas dinner.
Christmas Cookies (most of these I baked every year, sometimes trying something new)
- Pecan crescents (my favorite)
- M&M cookies (with green and red M&Ms, of course)
- Peanut blossoms with chocolate kisses
- Nut cups
- Sugar cookie cut outs and gingerbread men
My favorite Christmas cookie:
2 sticks real butter, left out to soften
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup finely chopped pecans
Cream butter and vanilla with dry ingredients, work in pecans with wooden spoon or clean hands. Chill dough thoroughly. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Form dough into 2” crescents (I like to make them, say, the size of a bent index finger or smaller, so they’re crispy when baked.) Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, until edges are golden brown. After removing from oven, roll in powdered sugar and then place on rack or plate to cool. Store in metal tin (will lose crispness in plastic).
Whatever your plans, I wish you and your family a blessed, wonder-filled Christmas.
What is the Christmas tradition that you and your family most look forward to?
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