Tag Archives: Christmas

A Christmas Lesson and a New Family Tradition

This year we had a very tight budget for Christmas spending.  The Department of Defence lowered our overseas cost of living by 50%, I have yet to secure employment, and we are recuperating losses from repairs on our rental property in Colorado.  I did my best to get at least a few things that each child wanted as well ensuring that we had all of our usual Christmas goodies.

When you live on a military base overseas, the prices at the Commissary (DeCa grocery store) are rather high.  Our tiny little ham was $32–and it was the only one that was not already expired. Things like baker’s chocolate, sugar, and flour that we would normally get a tt a great price were also inflated.

I could have spent more on Christmas gifts if we hadn’t gone to the Christkindlesmarkt in Nurnberg, but I felt that it would be fun to experience one of the world-famous Christmas Markets.  Too often we live in an area that has amazing things to see, but we end up never doing them because there’s always that little voice that says “we can do it next year.”  It is my experience that the next year comes, and we still haven’t gone and then before we realize it–we are moving again.  I have been looking forward to the Christkindlesmarkt ever since we found out that we had orders to Germany, so I was not about to let this opportunity pass.  I’m glad that we spent the money on such a special trip!

This year, my son was greatly disappointed with his gifts.  He wanted Fifa 14, but it was not available at the Post Exchange (PX). He also wanted Minecraft online, but I didn’t know about it.  The other item that my son really wanted was a pair of $80 Euro shoes (after exchange & bank fees that comes out to about $105). The kids asked for sweaters as well. So I gave my son Fifa 13, two very nice sweaters, a nice Timex watch with an alarm and two time zones, and my husband’s old smart phone with minutes and some data. From my parents he received a $50 gift card to Amazon.  Personally, I would love to have that gift card!

Off and on through the day he asked for Minecraft after finding out that he couldn’t buy the online game through Amazon.  After telling him nicely that he could ask his sister to cash out some of his amazon gift card when she gets paid on the 5th of January, he got upset and said he shouldn’t have to wait that long.

My children are blessed, and they don’t even realize it.  I grew up with very little.  I remember eating lots of ground beef, tuna casserole, and soups.  We were not dirt poor, but we certainly were not middle class. We lived in Santa Ana, California–a known gang zone.  I had to take the bus or walk just about everywhere. We had junk cars that were often breaking down. I never asked for much because I grew up with these 6 words: “we don’t have money for that.”  If I had a pair of L.A. Gear shoes–they were the previous years’ model and we purchased them at the swap meet. I don’t think my mother would have ever purchased a $30 pair of shoes for us girls.  Our shoes came from Payless. Our clothes were purchased at K-Mart. I didn’t complain. I was grateful for every gift that I received, and if I didn’t like it, I pretended to love it. I still remember the year that I received the Prince “1999” album and the Cyndi Lauper “She’s So Unusual” album. I cherished those records for years!

I was so angry and hurt by my son’s attitude that I went up to my room to be alone with memories of him as a little boy.  An idea sparked.

I came downstairs about two hours before dinner with two large storage boxes full of family photos.  I called the kids to the dining table and had them sit down with me.  We went through the photos together.  We visited Christmases, birthdays, family gatherings, and impromptu snap shots.  The kids had a great time looking through all of the wonderful memories.  I did too. Thomas said to me later that night, “mom, I’m sorry. Thanks for all of the awesome gifts you gave me when I was a kid. I really do like the Fifa 13 game, and my sweaters. How did you know that I needed a watch?” I just smiled. Told him you are welcome and that it was a tradition in my family to get your first “grown-up” watch for Christmas when you are a freshman in high school. He asked me to help him set up the second time zone for Colorado. It was a good lesson for him, and a reminder to me–I have done well in providing a better life for my kids.

I also discovered a new Christmas tradition–looking through old photos before dinner on Christmas Day.

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!

~~Angelique Stevens

Cool Orange Salad

Cool Orange Salad
Cool Orange Salad

Cool Orange Salad has been a tradition in my husband’s family since the 1960’s.  His mother believes that it was a recipe that came with a tub of Cool Whip.  Regardless of how long this has been a holiday tradition, it’s delicious!

Equipment:
  • Strainer
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Electric Hand mixer
  • Mold (Optional)
Ingredients:
  • 12 oz container of Cool Whip (de-frosted)
  • 6 oz package of Jell-O (Orange or Lime)
  • 20 oz can of crushed pineapple
  • 16 oz or 1 lb container of small curd cottage cheese
  • Optional–Mandarin Oranges (drained and patted dry with paper towels) for decorating
Directions:
  1. strain the cottage cheese. It is very important to remove as much liquid as possible. I use a mesh strainer and press the curds with the back of a spoon–repeat as necessary until most of the liquid is removed.
  2. Strain the crushed pineapple using the directions in step 1.
  3. Scoop the Cool Whip into mixing bowl. Using a mixer, stir in the Jell-O. Mix until the Jello-O is dissolved.
  4. Add the pineapple and cottage cheese to the Cool Whip and Jell-O mixture. Stir until well mixed.
  5. Put the Cool Orange (or Lime) Salad into a decorative mold.

The first time I ever ate Cool Orange Salad was at my Husband’s family Christmas party. I loved it so much that it is now part of our celebration feast every year. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Merry Christmas!

 

It’s a Family Tradition!

Family holiday traditions have a way of growing, changing, and melding with the addition of each new family member.  My husband and I celebrated Christmas with very different traditions before we got married, but have melded the best of both our families and added our own flair to our celebration.  I love that no two families are identical in their celebration traditions.  After viewing the blog and ornaments at Patience Brewster, a designer of unique Christmas ornament and gifts, I was inspired to share my favorite holiday traditions.

It’s Not Black Friday—It’s Christmas Friday!

As soon as Halloween passed, I could hardly wait to play Christmas music and put up all of the Christmas decorations.  When I was a child, my mom would sometimes decorate the weekend before Thanksgiving, but my husband did not want to see anything having to do with Christmas until after Thanksgiving.  I compromised by decorating the house with fall wreaths, garlands, linens, and other miscellaneous decor.  The rule stands: No Christmas until after the Turkey has been consumed! While everyone else is running ragged trying to get the best Christmas deals on black Friday, we stay home and decorate the house for Christmas. We call it Christmas Friday.

It’s a Wonderful Life

After all of the decorations have been strategically placed, we all gather around the TV to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  This has not always been a tradition.  My husband is a funny creature.  The Saint Nicolas party always put him in the mood for Christmas. It was sort of like a marker to him that he should now be feeling joyful and excited no matter what stress existed, whether it be financial, work, or family related.  When we moved far from family, I just could not seem to get him into the holiday spirit.  Then one night, about a week before Christmas, we watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” on the Turner Classic Movie Channel.  He said, “I love this movie. It always puts me in the holiday mood.” I bought the DVD at the after Christmas sale. Now we watch this film every year on Christmas Friday.

Trimming the Tree

Because my husband comes from a very large family, his parents began a tradition of celebrating Saint Nicolas Day every year with all of the family members—the guest list was comprised of grandparents; first, second, and third aunts, uncles and cousins; and close family friends.  After my husband and I were married, guests also included my parents and my sister. Saint Nicolas Day marked the kick-off to the Christmas season.  Gifts usually included Christmas ornaments or decorations.

Though we moved far away from the family, we kept the tradition of giving an ornament to each of our children for Saint Nicolas day.  We also buy one new ornament that represents a family milestone or a favorite memory.  Even the puppies are represented on our Christmas tree!  Our tree may not be color coordinated or worthy of a formal gathering, but each ornament has a story to tell.  Every year we enjoy homemade hot cocoa, my family sugar cookies, and listen to Christmas songs while each member of the family hangs his or her ornament. More often than not, an ornament will spark a memory and the owner will share their memory with the rest of the family.

Christmas Eve Birthday Party

Though Christmas Eve is not technically Jesus’ birthday, this is the day our family celebrates His birth.  Every year we make a small birthday cake—and yes “Happy Birthday Jesus” is written on the top.  After we eat our cake, each family member writes a personal note to Jesus and puts it in His stocking—this is our gift to Him.  The note remains in the stocking until the next year. When we hang His stocking, each person reads his or her note—it’s a private thing, so we have never forced the kids to read it a aloud. My notes usually consist of thanksgiving for the blessings of that year and prayers for the New Year.  Afterward, we read Christ’s birth story.

When I was a kid, I used to sit in front of the tree and shake my gifts on Christmas Eve. I was just too excited! Of course, we had a rule: no shaking the gifts! But seriously, who didn’t shake them when they were kids?  Because I still have that urge to open gifts before Christmas morning, we started the PJ gift tradition.  Everyone in the family gets brand new pajamas and slippers—and if needed, a new robe.  Besides, what is a birthday party without gifts?

After the PJs have been opened, we all change into our new PJs and then sit together on the sofa.  We read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and sing “Up On the Roof Top” and “Here Comes Santa Clause.”

 The Christmas Cookie
Louisiana Sugar Cookies
Louisiana Sugar Cookies

My family always made Louisiana Sugar Cookies that are rolled into a ball and then flattened on the cookie sheet with a decorative glass, while my husband’s family always made sugar cookies that are rolled and cut with cookie cutters.  His favorite part of making cookies as a kid was decorating them.  Though I prefer my family’s cookies, we did make the cut cookies when our kids were little because my husband loved decorating them with the kids. Funny that my kids enjoyed decorating the cookies, but favored mine for eating…

Christmas Morning

When I was a child, I would wake my little sister up and exclaim, “It’s Christmas!”  My parents had to practically pull me out of bed any other day of the year, but on Christmas morning, I would wake up somewhere between 5 and 6 am.  We would rush into the living room to make sure that Santa had come. After scoping out the presents, we would run and jump into our parent’s bed and yell, “Santa was here! It’s Christmas!”  To which they would reply, “Okay, Okay.” They would groggily head to the living room and watch as we opened our stockings.  We would then have to wait for the coffee to brew before we could open the presents.

I’m pretty sure this scene is familiar to most families. However, I am still the one who wakes up first on Christmas morning. I start the coffee. Then I take the scones (made on Christmas Eve) and the jam to the coffee table. I sneak back into bed and wait for the kids.

In our house, the dogs get to open their gifts first. Their stockings are full of treats, and Santa always wraps a huge bone for them.

The Christmas Feast

Whether you eat tamales, lasagna, prime rib, turkey, duck, lamb, or ham—the Christmas feast is probably one of the most important aspects of the Christmas traditions.  My grandmother always brought her homemade fruitcake and fudge.  We ate ham prepared with pineapple and clove, green bean casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and brown-and-serve dinner rolls.  Dessert included cookies, pumpkin pie, fudge, and of course, grandma’s fruitcake. My husband’s favorite feast as a child was the Saint Nicolas party spread. This traditional feast included tamales (brought by an uncle’s sister-in-law,) pickled and creamed herring, Cool Orange Salad, Tomato aspic, and glazed ham along with traditional sides such as candied yams, and stuffing.  Eggnog was of course a treat in both our families.

Rum Balls And Fudge
Rum Balls And Fudge

In order to fit in all of our favorite foods, we serve hors d’oeuvres starting at about 10am through the afternoon.  We serve pickled and creamed herring, an olive and pickle platter as well as a veggie platter, Cool Orange Salad (only I use lime Jell-O for Christmas so it’s Cool Green Salad), my homemade creamy eggnog, Fudge, rum balls, and my Louisiana sugar cookies.

The star of Christmas dinner is a ham ornamented with pineapple and cloves, then coated in a pineapple and brown sugar glaze. The side dishes include salad, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, broccoli, and fresh baked dinner rolls.  For dessert, we serve apple pie, pecan pie, and pumpkin pie.  I know that’s a lot of pie, but who doesn’t love pie for breakfast the next day?

 New Traditions

Now that we are living in Germany, we have added a couple of new things to our Christmas Traditions.  We learned how to make certain traditional German Christmas cookies, and we enjoyed it so much that I will include them from now on. We are also adding Stollen to our menu as well as Gluhwein (hot, spiced wine).  I am certain there will be many more additions to our Christmas traditions over the years, and that is the beauty of traditions—they grow and change over the years, but are always special.

 

I hope you have enjoyed exploring our family Christmas traditions.  Do you have any family traditions that you have kept or changed over the years? I’d love to hear about them!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your families!

 

Creamy Eggnog

I have been serving this eggnog for over 20 years and every year it receives high compliments. Leave the chemistry experiment in the dairy case at your local grocer–make your own nog this year!

Makes: 10 4 oz servings

Chill 4 to 24 hours before serving

Ingredients

  • 8 beaten egg yolks
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3-5 whole cloves (Optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
  •  Ground nutmeg

Directions

  1. In a large, heavy saucepan mix the egg yolks, milk, and the 1/3 cup sugar. Optional: add the cloves and cinnamon stick for spicier eggnog. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture just coats a metal spoon. Remove from heat. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves. Place the pan in a sink or bowl of ice water and whisk rapidly for 2 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Cover and chill for at least 4 or up to 24 hours.
  2. Just before serving, in a mixing bowl mix the whipping cream and the 2 tablespoons sugar, the ground cloves, and ground nutmeg. Beat until soft peaks form. Transfer chilled egg mixture to a punch bowl. Fold in the ¼ of the whipped cream mixture. Serve at once. Add a dollop of the whipped cream to each serving. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Makes about 10 (4-ounce) servings.

Add spiced rum or brandy to each serving as desired.

Louisiana Sugar Cookies

I am about to share the most coveted, secret recipe for Louisiana sugar cookies.  They have been a family favorite since I was a wee one. They are crisp, but melt in your mouth. They are sweet, but not too sweet.  They are buttery, but not too buttery. And the best thing about them is:  they are easy to make!

Ingredients:
  • 1 C.  Butter (or margarine–but trust me butter is BEST)
  • 1 C. Sugar (I like to use C&H Baker’s Sugar)
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 C.  All Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • Bowl of sugar
  • Colored sugar
Directions:
  1. Preheat Oven to 325⁰ F.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Whisk together all DRY ingredients.
  4. Whisk egg, then whisk in the Vanilla.
  5. Mix egg & vanilla into butter/sugar.
  6. Slowly mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients.
  7. Form dough into ball then store in plastic bag or wrap.
  8. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  9. Press glass with decorative bottom or cookie press into large dough ball, then dip into sugar.louisiana sugar cookies press prep
  10. Form dough into small balls—diameter should be about the size of a quarter.
    1. Roll ball into sugar and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
      1. Don’t crowd them—the cookies will spread out a bit as they bake!
    2. Use glass to press cookies.
      1. Sprinkle pressed cookies with colored sugar.
    3. Bake for approximately 5-7 minutes or until slightly golden on edges.
    4. Remove and cool for 20 minutes.louisiana sugar cookies press
Alternatives:

Substitute the vanilla extract with your favorite baking emulsion or extract (e.g., almond emulsion or extract, lemon extract, rum extract or emulsion, peppermint extract, etc.)

Cookies can be topped with a pecan, walnut, candy cane dust, chocolate chip, or cake/cupcake sprinkles. Options here are only limited to your imagination!

 

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!