Family Traditions: It's a Wonderful Life !
Tradition #1 Baking Holiday Cookies
What do George Bailey, Russian Tea Cakes, and Chinese food have in common? It is all part of our family’s Christmas traditions.
Russian Tea Cakes
My mother handed the recipe down for Russian Tea Cakes. It is one of the holiday cookie recipes that we cherish each year. When I was a young mother in my early twenties I began the tradition in my own family. The cookie party begins with making the dough, chilling it for a few hours or overnight, then rolling and baking. The results are a wonderfully flavored ball of goodness that is lightly rolled in powdered sugar-just like a snowball. Both of my grown daughters carry on this tradition with their own families now.
One year my oldest daughter, then 8, decided to make them without any guidance of assistance. I had confidence that she would be able to handle it. She read well and had helped make them in previous years. Encouraging her self reliance I set the oven temperature, assisted her in placing the cookie sheets in the oven and pulled them out when the timer went off.
After the long awaited cool down and roll in the sugar she and her sister, along with me, grabbed a cookie and gave a big bite. Imagine our surprise when what our tongues met was not at all the flavor we expected. Greeting our taste buds was the complete opposite of the sweet cookie we had become accustomed to and instead there was an unmistakable salty flavor.
On investigation I discovered she had misunderstood the tsp and tablespoon symbols adding one tablespoon of salt, not the quarter teaspoon it was calling for. Telling this story has become another part of the history of our Russian Tea Cake baking tradition.
Tradition #2 Dining Together on Special Occasions
I was raised Catholic, a religion that I continued to follow when I was raising my children. As a young girl my favorite time of mass for the Christmas holiday was midnight mass on Christmas Eve. I loved going into the candle lit church in the middle of the night to pray and sing Christmas songs. The image of Baby Jesus being born in the stable seemed to come to life more when the stars were out.
As my daughters grew older, and were able to remain awake and alert through mass, I returned to attending the midnight service. My second husband shared the faith of Catholicism and one year following mass he drove around in search for a late night restaurant. There were none to be found, of course, nor was there even a party store open to pick up a few groceries.
Then, as we drove down a busy main road the lights of a local Chinese restaurant flashed its neon sign: ‘OPEN’. It was a delicious meal full of merriment and a wonderful way to end the year, which was receiving our fortune cookies. Thus, a family tradition was started, which again, lives on with each of my daughters’ families on Christmas Eve.
Tradition #3 Sharing a good movie together
Favorite Christmas Movies
My sister and I shared a room growing up. One year my parents hosted a Christmas party and we were instructed not to disturb the adults, but we could bring the small, black and white television into our room and stay up as long as we liked. One of the movies we watched, which we still reminisce about, is White Christmas with Bing Crosby.
Through the years the old classics like Miracle on 48th Street starring a very young Natalie Wood; and Charles Dickens’: A Christmas Carol would be televised, along with the animated Charlie Brown Christmas and Seuss’s, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. These were all family favorites that my siblings and I enjoyed and have been passed on through the decades for my own children and grandkids to relish.
Of course, with new material coming in each year, my daughters now have their own favorites and the tradition in their homes is the nostalgic recounts of one boy’s desire to get a bb gun from Santa in the humorous Christmas Story movie.
For me Christmas would not be the same without watching two movies: The hilarious adventures of Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and the touching life story of George Bailey in: It’s A Wonderful Life. The attempts of these two men to be successful hold universal truths for all of us.
Fun times with grandkids: Photo moment
Tradition #4 Christmas Photo and Cards
Although my husband and I did not take an annual photo to send to the relatives in the Christmas card, like so many families do, we did send out cards each year. As time goes on the Christmas card exchange has sadly dwindled to just a handful. Most people skip spending the money on cards and postage, and opt instead to Skype, email or text. It is the nature of new technology to desire instantaneous pictures.
I am one of the last ones standing in the card department. I love to give and receive cards. Now that my children are grown I take an annual Christmas photo with my grandchildren. I always keep one for myself and it's fun to see how they've grown and the smiles, with or without braces, that shine from that photo as they eagerly await Christmas morning.
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Other Favorite Traditions
Christmas Lights: Watching Clark Griswold struggle with those lights and seeing the obnoxious outcome of his effort inspired my husband and me to drive around with the kids during the holiday season in search for the best Griswold look alike home in the neighborhood. Would we find it? Yes, we would-every year, not necessarily the same one.
Christmas Ornaments: Another family tradition when my children were born was to give an annual Christmas ornament. I now share this same tradition with my grandchildren choosing something that is their current interest, such as a Disney Princess, or something classic, such as an angel or a version of Saint Nicholas. I envision the ornaments as part of their ‘hope chest’ for when they will celebrate this holiday on their own.
Pajamas and Storybooks: Two traditional gifts that started with my own children and are now carried on with my grandchildren are new pajamas and a brand new book. I'm not sure how the new pajamas tradition started, actually. Perhaps it seemed like a good time to buy a warm pair of pi's for the winter nights. Whatever the thought behind it the annual gift stuck and my own daughters carry this on with their children. As for the storybooks-there's always a 'right time' to give a book to someone you love.
My daughters now share these traditions, along with creating new ones, with their own families. One of the new ones that was inadvertently created was the 'passing on of the Christmas sweater'. This started when one hubby received a homemade Christmas sweater that was one that could be described best as, 'obnoxious'. Rather than sending it to the Salvation Army to recycle, he wrapped it as a present for his brother-in-law and made it a gift that would last and last. Back and forth the sweater went, much like the hard rock traditional fruit cake-something you had, didn't want and were eager to get rid of.
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