Barbara: I’m not super-sentimental. I don’t keep old birthday cards (although Deb has a genius use for old Christmas cards), and I try to keep nostalgic trophies from amassing. This is probably one of those split-camp things where some of you are firmly in one camp (nostalgic) or the other (not so much).
I enjoyed wonderful traditions when I was growing up … and didn’t hesitate for a second to change them up when I had a family of my own. Of course, it turned out that my parents had also tweaked and improvised those "old traditions”. Turns out I come from a long line of tradition-tweakers. (Makes me wonder which of our own heartfelt traditions my children will change for their own families.)
As it’s the holiday season—here’s a peek inside my family’s adopted “traditions”:
We celebrate Christmas in the European tradition on Christmas Eve (both our families come from European families). The kids have never complained about getting their presents a full 12 hours early. And we get to sleep in the next morning!
My mother and stepfather often visit us for the holidays, and as my stepfather is Jewish and if Hanukah overlaps (as it does this year), we also enjoy some Jewish festivities (beef brisket and potato pancakes this December 23rd, mmmmm). I should mention here that my stepfather knows the Christmas carols and hymns better than we do!
Neither my husband nor I grew up with stockings, but we liked the concept, so we invented our own stockings tradition when the kids were about 4 and 7-years-old. We hang stockings and then for each of the twelve days before Christmas, we add one small item to each one. By the time Christmas Eve arrives, the stockings are bulging with the “12 Days of Christmas” goodies. Both girls still tease that when they were little they always cheated and fondled the stockings when no one was looking—and had no trouble identifying the “secret” roll of Scotch tape. The next day on Christmas morning, we lie in bed, all four of us and, one-by-one, reveal a stocking present. All this is followed by Christmas brunch and Christmas dinner. Mmmm.
We celebrate the four advents before Christmas. Not (I hope I don’t offend) as a religious ceremony, but as an excuse to gather various people around us and eat Christmas cookies and roasted chestnuts and popcorn and spiced pecans and sing carols. I did take this from my own family, just tweaking it a bit to include our other favourite foods (like cheese and salad and crusty French bread). This is a treasured tradition for each of us. Fond memories include when the kids were young and, fueled by a sugar high, would perform the carols for us replete with dances, plays, and puppet shows. To this day, they still adore Advent and many of our weekly celebrations include their friends—who always begin the celebration shy and tentative, but who end (probably also fueled by that sugar high) by singing and happily reveling alongside us.
This tradition means that I need to have my Christmas baking done early in the season. And, oh by the way, I hate baking. So I’ve gathered a tried-and-true roster of baked goods that are a) super easy and pretty failsafe, and b) can be frozen for a steady holiday supply. As a new new tradition, through the next couple of weeks, I’m going to share with you my favourites among these recipes in case you’re looking for super-easy goodies that are freezer-friendly for your own traditional gatherings or last-minute shindigs! Enjoy.
Sweet Marie Bars
These are my biggest hit—I think I’ve shared this with just about every one of my buddies. They are delicious even straight from the freezer (although very hard). Soft, they are chewy and sweet and slightly salty. And they’re even vegetarian/vegan friendly. I don’t use my microwave for much, but this is one of my few exceptions.
This recipe is for an 8” glass pan, but to last through the season, I double it and set it in a 9by14” pan.
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips (if vegan: make sure your chocolate chips don’t contain whey or lactose; if you’re Canadian, the Loblaw’s brand is good)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup corn syrup
1tbsp butter or oil
¾ cups chopped peanuts (salted)
2 cups Rice Krispies (or popped rice type cereal)
1cup semisweet chocolate chips
2tbsp peanut butter
In a large microwaveable bowl, combine the bar ingredients (without the nuts or Rice Krispies). Microwave uncovered at full power for 1min30, then stir well, then microwave for another 1min. You know it’s ready when the chocolate and sugar are fully melted (but not burned!). Remove bowl from microwave and stir in nuts and cereal. Press mixture into a buttered or oiled pan.
For the topping, use the same microwaveable bowl, but now add the topping ingredients. Microwave at HALF POWER for 2min, then stir and microwave for another 1-2min. Stir until smooth and spread over the bar base.
Refrigerate until set (about 2 hours) and cut into very small squares. These are very rich, so be spare in size.
How to ruin these: it is very hard, but can be (and sadly, has been) done. Either by not cooking the bar mixture long enough, which results in a crumbly bar that doesn’t hold, or cooking too much (long or hot) and burning the chocolate. Keep checking the consistency and you’ll be fine.
(PS Deb won’t be able to vouch for these cookies as peanut butter and chocolate is a combo she abhors. Strange girl!!) Stay tuned for more easy goodies!
Deb: Barb, this is so lovely to see. I love getting a peek into the traditions of others. It’s wonderful to see the many ways we can celebrate, each making our own family unique in the midst of a tradition over 1/3 of the planet celebrates. I love your traditions, Barb, and I hear the joy in your voice each year as you recount the many ways the holidays light up for you and yours.
Here is what we do:
The four weeks of Advent we spend at church, lighting the candles and singing the great hymns and carols, and sharing the anticipation of the joy to come. Each night of the four advents, we light one of the candles at home, on the advent wreath the boy was given by our dear friend, his first minister, Shirley.
We throw a festive party every year, some years we have 90 people and some years 15, but it is always a fun way to kick-start the season, as we always try to have it early in December.
Every December 24th for a good thirty years we have met with several dear friends for martinis and club sandwiches and it is a tradition we adore. It is so exciting to hear of everyone’s plans and I am always at the table stitching the last bell on a Christmas stocking.
Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember, my Mom and Dad have had a drop-in, complete with loving friends and family, hors d’oeuvres and spirits burning bright. As they have lost most of their friends, we now have a cosy gathering with present and absent friends. But we still do it. Only now, Colin and I throw it, aided by my brother and his wife, and our dear friends, Cheryl and Bill. It means the world to Mom and Dad and is a great way to tame the Christmas Day butterflies, which I am thrilled to say I still get.
I love the European tradition of Christmas Eve and had a boyfriend in my past whom I shared that with. Italian Mother and German father. It was glorious. But let’s face it, we all love the traditions we grew up with and, for me, it was going to bed with the tree bursting its branches with gifts as we turned off the lights. I loved as a child putting out the milk and cookies for Santa, confident that he would enjoy mine at just the right time in his journey. I loved waking up at three in the morning, all ten years of me and unwrapping the stocking and putting everything back exactly where it had been, then falling to sleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in my noggin.
As an adult, I loved a quiet midnight with a rum and eggnog, filling the stockings after boy had fallen asleep. Before I tucked him in, we would watch the news for the report of Santa’s journey across the planet and we would sing sweet carol lullabies till he faded off with his advent chocolate still clinging to his tongue.
Christmas Day in our home brings the opening of stockings, the champagne breakfast, nodding off in front of a Christmas movie, and the family gathering for Christmas dinner. Grace is said, blessings are counted, and another Christmas winds down its magic.
Here’s to traditions of every faith and secular creature on earth. As Tiny Tim observed, “God bless us, everyone.”
We would love to hear all about your Christmas traditions. Tell one, or tell all!