Holiday Traditions

jak1(4 Ontario Can)November 22, 2008

Do you have any special things that you do in your family for the holidays? Funny, nostalgic, sentimental, whatever? This is one that is dear to my family's heart, every year!

The Christmas Dishes.

Every December 1st, I climb up to a little used cupboard and get out my set of Christmas dishes. I have done this every year for 25 years. There is, of course, a story...

My husband's family is quite large and many members have little money to spare, so many years ago, we decided to draw names for Christmas. We usually put a money maximum on the gift, like $25.00. Or we put a requirement: you had to make it youself; or, it had to be Green; or it had to be consumable...whatever. One year my late) retired StepFather In law drew my name. The one thing I really really wanted that year was a set of Christmas dishes that I had seen at Zellers, costing $25.00, so that is what I asked for. He said he would give me the money and I could buy them myself, but no, I wanted him to make that effort for me. DH then asked me what I wanted from the kids for Christmas. You guessed it: I asked for another set of the same dishes so that we would have a service for eight. DH went to the local Zeller's: no dishes. He went to another: no dishes. He drove to the city an hour away and checked all four Zeller's there: no dishes. So he drove to a city two and half hours away, and yahoo! Got their last set of dishes....Christmas morning the box from the kids was under the tree and I was thrilled to find my Zeller's dishes. Off to the granparent's house for more Christmas. There was the box under the tree. I opened it up and....there was a beautiful set of Christmas dishes, obviously not from Zeller's and much more expensive than $25.00. "Well", said SFIL, "I looked at those dishes from Zeller's and didn't like them so I went to a china store and bought REAL Christmas dishes". They ARE just right for me. And DH drove two and a half hours to Zeller's and got his $25.00 back and we went to the china store and bought another service for four so I would have my service for eight Christmas Dishes. Every December to this day I use those dishes for the month of December. And every time I take them out, I remember that I have had two men in my life (other than my Dad) who would go to no end of trouble to make my Christmas a happy one.

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What a touching story Julie. I'd love to see a picture of the dishes. Do you set the table and leave it that way for the season or do you display them some other way?

I'm huge on traditions and have many. One of the fun ones is the pickle ornament. Each Christmas Eve I would hide a beautiful glass dill pickle ornament on the tree. When the kids got up Christmas morning, that was the first thing they would do is look for the pickle. Whoever finds it gets a prize. The prize was always something to share with the family. For DD's first Christmas as a married woman I gifted her with a glass pickle.


    Bookmark   November 22, 2008 at 11:02PM
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That's a German tradition, Michelle! we have the pickle ornament, too (the helpmeet's paternal family are German)!!

I love the story of the Christmas plates, Julie. My late FIL was very suspicious of me for a very long time (long story involving 2 idiot step-DILs), but we did become respectful, affectionate friends.

I think my tradition is spending time decorating the outside of the house. Some of my earliest memories involve chilly fall days collecting pinecones, horse chestnuts, milkweed pods, etc.. Mum would give me a paper bag, show me what to look for, and say, "Do you think you could fill this bag up for me, sweetheart?". And off I'd go in search of the quarry (I was about Kenzie and Bella's age). Later, I'd play under the dining room table while Mum made wreaths and other decorative items for the house.

When she was so sick in the fall of '03 I decided to try my hand at Williamsburg inspired decorations. She and I had a good time seeing them evolve and it was great fun to watch the "gloomies" banished by a little creativity. I think of her every time I set my mind to creating them.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2008 at 7:44AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Lovely stories/traditions....! The traditions here largely revolve around food :-) Tourtie for réveillon is always made with SIL's family recipe, although we take turns making it. There are always oysters at réveillon and, since the early 1980's, sushi. Who hosts réveillon and Christmas dinner alternates between BIL's family and us. This year réveillon is at BIL/SIL's and Christmas dinner is here. There is always plum pudding, served with sauce made to MIL's recipe, for dessert at Christmas dinner. New Year's Eve dinner is always lobster and steak. Holiday baking always includes shortbread cookies (of course!) and Randy's mincemeat tarts. It's a wonder we're not all fat!

    Bookmark   November 23, 2008 at 10:18AM
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Many of you know that my Real Holiday Tradition starts on Christmas Day and extends through January 6, but there are a few December things that have always happened:

1. I get Narcissus and stones from my Mom and plant them to try and coincide bloom with December 25. Most years I'm a few days off -- she always nails it.

2. We have roast walnuts with real butter and sea salt at any major meal, a tradition which was mentioned in a 1823 letter from a many-greats-aunt to a friend of hers.

3. A real pineapple appears somewhere outside of the house as a sign of pure welcome.

4. Ky sets up the Village -- a somewhat new tradition (just the past 18 years) but one that His family will be doing 40 years from now.

The philosophical/religious traditions are a combo of many beliefs and persuasions but all include lighting candles at some point.

Great thread!


    Bookmark   November 23, 2008 at 10:29AM
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Pickle ornament here too, amongst all the glass ornaments of fruits and vegetables, animals, I've been collecting since the boys were born. They still enjoy opening the ornament boxes each holiday and hanging them on the tree, and I usually add a few new ones in each year for a surprise. And baking certain cookies (my childhood neighbor Phyllis' Swedish Tea Cookies.)

I'm thinking of making champurrado this year. My paternal grandmother was Mexican, but she never made this drink that I can remember. But last night I bumped into an 80ish relative and asked her about it, not remembering the name, only that it was a spicy hot chocolate. It's so interesting to watch memories stir. Her eyes lit up at the mention of it, but she was completely blank for about an hour, then blurted out "champurrado" and said they had it on New Year's Eve. I'm thinking it probably doesn't taste all that great for it to have been completely forgotten and not taken up as a tradition. We'll see...(FYI: Day of the Dead is Halloween)

Day of the Dead - Spicy Hot Chocolate
Total time: 40 minutes

Servings: Makes about 5 quarts(20 1-cup servings)

Note: Adapted from Patricia Rubalcava. Abuelita and Ibarra Mexican chocolate tablets are available at most grocery stores. Champurrado can be garnished with cinnamon sticks, if desired.

2 (4-inch) cinnamon sticks

1/2 pound fresh masa (1 heaping cup), divided

4 (3.15-ounce) Mexican chocolate tablets, broken into small pieces

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

1 (15-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 quart milk

Sugar, if desired, to taste

1. In a 2-gallon stock pot, bring 2 quarts of water and the cinnamon sticks to a boil over high heat.

2. Meanwhile, in a blender, combine half of the masa with 1 quart water to form a slurry (the blender should be three-fourths full). Add the rest of the masa to the slurry and blend to combine. Add the masa slurry in a thin, steady stream to the cinnamon water and stir to combine, still over high heat.

3. Add the chocolate pieces to the blender, along with the evaporated and condensed milks. Blend the chocolate mixture completely, then slowly stir it into the stock pot. Stir in the milk.

4. Continue to cook until the mixture comes to a gentle boil, stirring constantly. Adjust the consistency by whisking in additional masa as desired, gently boiling the mixture a few minutes to allow the masa to cook and thicken. Adjust sweetness as desired with sugar.

5. Remove the champurrado from the heat and strain to remove the cinnamon sticks. Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate until needed. It will keep for 3 days refrigerated.

Wonderful story, Julie.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2008 at 11:23AM
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The Wrapping Contest how this came about I dont recall, but we vote every year on who has the best packages/paper/bows . Part of the tradition involves multiple people all claiming to have been the winner the previous year. The only prize is the thrill of victory . Store bought bows are strictly forbidden-an unwritten rule but all know that disqualification would surely result from the inclusion of one of those bag o bows numbers on a gift. Voting is spirited and usually accompanied by champagne.

Some of the entries from a couple years back...

Kathy in Napa

    Bookmark   November 23, 2008 at 11:27AM
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We have a pickle, too!

Nick's family enjoys a Christmas Eve feast of the Seven Fishes (though I don't think that there have ever been 7 courses, I will count this year!). Nick's grandmother makes pasta with lobster sauce, and baked stuffed lobster for the main course.

The one that confuses me to this day is the family Yankee swap. It has many rules that change from year to year depending on who is hosting. The basic premise is that we bring an anonymous gift (so don't use paper you used earlier!) in a previously decided dollar amount. All gifts go into the middle of the room. Everyone picks a number. Number 1 picks a gift from the pile. Opens the gift and shows it to everyone. Number 2 can choose to take that gift or pick a gift from the pile. If they take number 1's gift, then they get to go to the pile again. And it goes that way all the way to the end (number 13 gets to choose from all opened gifts or from the wrapped, etc.).

One year I got a thigh master when they held the swap at work (a big HR nightmare, IMO)...I was not happy about that :)

I like my Christmas dishes, too, and since we don't eat the main meal here, we try to use them pretty regularly, too. I think I will get them out this weekend!

    Bookmark   November 24, 2008 at 8:49AM
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Full_Bloom(z5 IL)

Aww...what a wonderful story Julie! Maybe you can share a photo of your dishes when the time comes! :-)

Well everybody's stories are great and so warm and touching...I didn't know that about the pickle and I can just picture Chelone as a little girl and her day out looking for treasures...How wonderful you and mom came full circle together! :-)

I love Mexican recipes that call for chocolate and cinnamon...I love those two tastes together. Thanks for the recipe Denise!

What a beautiful Christmas pic Kathy...the fire and the tree and the presents...that would make a beautiful Christmas card.

Your tradition sounds like fun Saucy, but it would be hard for me...I have such a hard time making decisions! :-)

Two traditions stick in my mind. The first one goes back over 35 years (kinda hurts to admit that...LOL)! It all started when my sister and I first saw "White Christmas" (we both *loved* that movie) and for fun all during that Christmas, my sister and I would sing the "Sisters" song. I think my dad was the one who started the tradition though. There was always music playing at our house, with of course, all kinds of Christmas music during the holidays. My mom even had a revolving life-sized Christmas tree that played music! :-) Anyway, while we were listening to all the holiday music my dad said "you know what I would like to hear?...the Sisters song". So Anita & I sang it for him and the rest of the captive audience...LOL (act and all)! Somehow every year after that, we just always did "the act"! :-)

Another tradition I started when my son was a baby was to pick out a Christmas ornament that would be all his own. We always made a big deal out of it, spending the day finding just the perfect one. We did that every year until he was 21. I love looking at those ornaments...a memory for every stage of his life; and I like to think he gets the same warm feeling when he looks at them now on his tree. :-)


    Bookmark   November 25, 2008 at 11:16AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I'm sure we have a tradition or two but I will come back later to tell it. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading everyone else's. Lovely story Julie and you are right, they seem to be willing to go to a lot of trouble for you! Nice to be reminded of that every year and I love that you use your dishes for the whole month of December and not just for one day.

I have never heard of the pickle ornament tradition?!! [g]

Chelone you have some great memories of growing up!

Martie...I look forward to seeing photos of this year's village. :-) Actually, I found two pieces this summer, when I wasn't even looking for any and I enjoyed them so much I had to bring them home. I don't think we are going to be adding to them and making a collection because we really don't have the space to display more but I am excited to add these to our Christmas decorating this year.

Denise...I am a Hot Chocolate lover. I look forward to hearing how this turns out. You've given me the idea to at least put some cinnamon in the hot chocolate this year.

Kathy, I love that photo of your tree! Such a full one and you did a great job of decorating it! I remember the photo of your Mirror over the mantle decorated for Christmas last year. The one DH gave you, right? Such a pretty mantle and mirror too! That's a cute idea of having a package wrapping contest! Sounds like a lot of fun for the kids too. :-)

Saucy...Swaps are so much fun! We needed to try that for a few years, but when the crowd got smaller we went back to individual gifts. You must have a crowd!

Ei....I love 'White Christmas' and that sounds like fun that everyone wants to hear you sing it every Christmas. You and sis must sing pretty well to get asked back. [g]

    Bookmark   November 26, 2008 at 10:31AM
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I thought of another one!

Both my brother and I have Christmas stockings that were knitted by an aunt, the wife of our eldest paternal uncle (got that?) They were hung from the mantel in the living room at the same time we put out the peanut butter sandwich for Santa Claus.

Every morning they were the first things we "went through" and it took a long time. Our stockings were full of cool, little items, often batteries that foretold more cool stuff.

And every year at the very bottom of the stocking's toe was beautiful orange or a few tangerines. Historically, citrus was a very expensive "treat" for a child to receive on Christmas. And they taste so good!

The helpmeet and I do not exchange stockings and so, the tradition of the orange has fallen by the wayside. Maybe I ought to revive it this year?

Gee, I've enjoyed this thread. Love the wrapping contest because I really get a kick out of good-lookin' packaging, too. "Sistuh Songstas" brought a grin, too. The thigh-master cracked me up, Saucy (too funny). The hot chocolate appealed to me, but I'm not sure I have what it takes to make it happen. ;) Thanks for the smiles.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2008 at 11:07AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

We have a few traditions I guess. Starting with Thanksgiving. We do our best to all know what we want for Christmas, so it can be discussed on Thanksgiving and that way we don't have to chase each other for lists and be shopping at the last minute, or at least that is the plan. [g] When I was a young child, every year, my Mom would give us the Sears catalog that was about the size of a Yellow Pages to look through to see what we wanted. I think it used to be called 'The Wish Book'? We could usually expect to get at least one thing we especially wanted.

Growing up, every Christmas Eve, we would open one gift. Mom started this tradition I think because she couldn't wait to open gifts. [g] She loved Christmas. Mom always bought us new pajamas every year and that would be the gift she would 'steer' us to open, so we could sleep in new pajamas on Christmas Eve. We are a practical lot. [g] Looking back I wonder if she was clever enough to want us to wake up for photos in new We still open one gift every Christmas Eve, except for the year after my mother passed, we were so not looking forward to Christmas and so we opened all the gifts on Christmas Eve, stayed up late and slept in the next morning.

We also do stockings and as a kid, oranges were always included in our stockings too, Chelone. We really enjoyed getting it, I think, because fresh fruit was not in abundance when we were kids. When I tried that with my own kids, fruit in the stocking was and still is a source of laughter and rolling of the eyes. :-) We always open ours last after all the gifts are open. We open our gifts taking turns choosing the next round of presents to open for each other. We are up early and it takes us all morning. We always have reason to look forward to the stockings with anticipation because you just never know what there will be. Sometimes there are gift certificates, one year there were plane tickets, all mixed in with the practical items of favorite mini candies, tennis balls, socks, after shave, etc. Often there are gag gifts. Now with grown children, the past few years, we have been putting in tickets to the Omni Theatre and the Fuddruckers for all, so we can plan a night out together.

I am still hearing about one year, when I was too ill to shop. DH had managed to do all the shopping for the Christmas presents, but had not been able to manage to get to the stocking stuffers in time. So instead of having empty stockings the next morning. I cut out photos of what I would have bought them if I could. lol Added a bit of fruit and anything else I could find around the house and that had to do. At first they just stared at me in shocked disbelief, but the more photos they pulled out, the more we all laughed. It has become one of our funniest memories.


    Bookmark   November 28, 2008 at 7:31AM
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The adults have always opened gifts on Christmas eve here, while Christmas morning was preserved for the Santa Claus stuff. Since my kids are grown we no longer have to open anything in Christmas day , and it can be preserved for crossword puzzles, mimosas, and general lounging around prior to the big feast (prime rib in recent years). Our meal Christmas eve is always lots of appetizers , champagne, and other cocktails of choice. We stretch out the gift opening as long as possible, pausing to admire the wrapping jobs, and take frequent breaks. All gifts are opened one at a time .

    Bookmark   November 28, 2008 at 6:19PM
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newbie_in_nj(6b E/Central NJ)

My late mother warmly reminisced every year about her Christmas stocking which included a Clementine, unshelled walnuts, a few hard candies and in the very, very bottom a quarter.

Those stockings were the sum total of their material gifts but the traditional Italian Christmas Eve seafood dinner and Christmas day feasting with relatives coming in and out (they all lived in close city neighborhoods) was the real deal. And the love...the feeling of being cherished and belonging to immediate and extended family.

When we four daughters were young my mother didn't drive and then didn't have her own car for years. When I was 4 my parents moved us to "the country" in northern Jersey so we could grow up with wondrous woods behind the house in new suburbs.

Dad did all the shopping then including for our Christmas presents. After pestering him, a few weeks before Christmas my father would call all four girls into the living room one night after dinner to "make the lists." We would run and jump up to sit on, over and around him on the couch where he fell asleep reading the newspaper after a late dinner every weeknight.

He took a pad of paper and divided it into 4 sections with our names. We went around in a circle naming one thing we wanted at a time until we were done. Descriptions were elicited from my father as there were no circulars in those days and my father had not a clue what we were naming. Dad would end by saying he'd make sure Santa got the lists.

Probably because it wasn't easy to get 4 girls up, washed & dressed with one bathroom into the car for Mass and then a long day of shuttling between "city grandparents" and family we always opened our presents at a most special time...midnight.

We went to bed with such anticipation Christmas Eve and before we knew it my mother was softly waking us up at midnight telling us "Santa was here, come see!" after which we scrambled out of bed with a mixture of grogginess and excitement.

I'll never forget the absolute magic of stepping into the hallway and seeing the glow of the lit Christmas tree emanating from the darkened living room with what seemed to be sparkling packages all laid out under the tree in four piles. Once into the living room we'd each find our packages and start to open them. My parents would be slumped in a chair thoroughly exhausted but with the warmest smiles at our delight and their joy.

There was always a plate of the butter cookies (pink stars and flowers & green Christmas trees) we'd made with my father one night the week before Christmas to eat while we opened gifts.

My paternal grandmother always made an Italian knot cookie with red, white and green lemon flavored icing. I somehow came to be the one out the four girls who took on that task as adults. Now all my nieces and nephews would disown me if I didn't have a huge rainbow platter of those cookies for them on Christmas.

Then there's the Italian Wedding Soup...home made chicken stock with tiny meatballs (ground veal & chicken base) with the finest hairs of pasta. The meatballs for so many take one whole day on their own to make but they can be frozen ahead of time thank goodness. The kids would riot if their Nanny's "little meatball soup" wasn't on the Christmas day menu.

The granchildren are now aged 21-27 but it was intentional on the part of my mother and we four sisters to make sure we passed on traditions to them so they'd have a bond to their past and each other.

"Christmas Cookies" started out with each of us 4 girls making one or two batches to bring to my parent's house for Christmas day dessert along with a cake so the kids could sing "Happy Birthday Jesus." They must have learned that in their parochial schools as they demanded it but I went through 12 years of Catholic school and don't remember that particular thing being taught. Of course we did it for them as requested anyway.

As my sisters started their families and ran short of time I started taking on more of the cookie baking. It's one of those things that just creeps up on you over the years until you don't know how you ended baking up to 14 varieties of cookies, each of which is someone's favorite, plus the traditional iced Italian knot cookies. The traditional Italian Struffoli (feather light honey drizzled balls) have been bought from an Italian bakery for years. My older sister and I tried our hand at them one year decades ago and they came out like lead cannon balls...LOL.

The many batches of cookies get divided up into tins everyone brings and taken for enjoyment back at everyone's respective homes all Christmas week.

My father's favorites are the Linzer Tortes my older sister makes for him every year. Everyone loves her Neopolitan cookies (3 colored layers, apricot jam in between & boiled chocolate icing all around) which are worlds beyond the ones you get in the store.

This will be our fourth Christmas without my Mom and I naively thought missing her as the heart of our family would be tempered each successive year but it's not. Keeping the traditions she gave us is some comfort and seeing the kids faces as they scoff up multiple bowls of their grandmother's "little meatball soup" is one of the most touching times of the whole day.

My older sister is farthest along in keeping a "family recipe cookbook" on the computer for her 2 daughters. So much of the cooking of my grandmothers and mother were never by "written recipe" and I'm thankful my older sister and father took the time to record recipes while those amazing women were still with us.

How ironic that the one out of four daughters who never cooked much(me) has ended up "doing holidays" since my Mom passed away. I don't know how women do it continuously over decades...kind of like how I'm constantly amazed at how women here on the forums do so much with their gardening among all their other responsibilities.

The holiday traditions are for generational continuity and priceless memories. It's a sense of "place" and belonging no matter where family members scatter through the years.

Sorry I rambled so...time of year with so many memories.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2008 at 4:37PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Those are nice memories to have indeed - and it sounds like you are all making memories for the younger generations to cherish....

Any chance of you posting a few of those cookie recipes?!

    Bookmark   December 6, 2008 at 5:51PM
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gardenbug(Canada zone 5)

As a child we almost always had a tree. We opened one gift on Christmas Eve, always! At some point close to Christmas, Dad always took me for a sleigh ride accompanied by my brother and sister., to see the lights and decorations. This was a real treat for me because Dad seldom had time to be with us. My brother and sister were less enthusiastic. Later on I learned that this was the time that Mom wrapped our gifts!

My sister and I spent hours all Fall studying the Sears catalog dreaming about what we would like Santa to bring, even though I don't think I ever believed in Santa. It was a game of sorts.

Mother always bought cards from the Metropolitan Museum of Art that we would watercolor together with eccentric friends and then address and add postage later on. I really enjoyed those events.

We always had sticky ribbon candy which was so beautiful but that no one enjoyed eating! We had a creche that I enjoyed setting up each year. I have a different one now, but no one else enjoys it and the cats would destroy it, so it seldom comes out any more. Mother had pretty glass balls to decorate the tree with and in the beginning even had real lighted candles on the tree. I have no idea what happened to those.

Once I was married with children, the only real tradition I kept was opening a gift on Christmas Eve. I didn't think we had many traditions, but the children invented new ones. Turkey seemed to be a necessity (though I tire of it) and cranberries are a must for DS. Stockings for the kids & pets to open in bed before we adults woke up. DD always got a clementine, but DS doesn't enjoy them much. DS always got an impossible metal puzzle to solve. I loved shopping for the tiny things.

Gifts from DS were always the most exciting. He LOVES meaningful gifts and you usually have to ask "What is it?" once it is opened! It may consist of ropes and clamps and other mysterious things, but eventually you realize it is something you always wanted and didn't realize it! DD received a pulley system one year and they spent hours for years swinging from one end of the basement to the other.

I often tried to embarrass people at gift time: a lacy bra for Sarah, tons of gifts to embarrass a new boyfriend or girlfriend, whatever useful & silly thing I could think of.

Some years it had to be notes or promises when money was short, but those were often super gifts too.

Frequently gifts would be a box inside a box inside a box inside a box......

OH, and we ALWAYS open only one gift at a time. He who receives selects a gift for the next person to open. It lasts forever but is fun!

We know a family that we usually alternate a visit with and sing carols together off key.

Back in 1950 we celebrated Christmas in France. It was "different" but not disappointing. We each received 1 gift only. There was no tree, no decorating, but we had a lit candle, a light misting of snow, family and my best friend who lived next door, a girl from Finland. We had been told to expect a low key Christmas, but it was simply curious, no less fun. I still love that gift I received too, a heavy bronze rabbit.

More recently we began solving 1000 piece puzzles over the holidays, and this is something that DD has introduced to her family.

In Nigeria (1965) we built a Christmas tree out of colored paper. It was silly and we had fun and spent the holidays traveling and visiting wonderful exotic places in intense heat and humidity. Christmas is whatever you make of it!

    Bookmark   December 6, 2008 at 6:16PM
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Newbie, I am charmed. Beautiful "word pictures" of a loving family and shared traditions.

With the subject of baking in mind, I went to THTTF today ("the house that time forgot") and came home with several very important pieces of baking equipment:
a 3 cup flour sifter
a jellyroll pan
the cookie press
cooling racks

I was thinking some nice butter cookies forced through the press and decorated could be sort of fun. But those Italian cookies sound really good, too!

    Bookmark   December 6, 2008 at 7:13PM
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