Christmas Shopping

This is post #19 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

I’ve always loved Christmas shopping and always try to put thought into the gifts I buy for people. At my elementary school, they would hold a craft fair with many inexpensive gifts — I remember shopping for my grandma there one year. As I reached middle-school age, I remember being let loose in the mall with my best friend.

My mom was the consummate catalog shopper and many L.L. Bean, Land’s End and other catalog faves could be found under our tree each year.

I’ve had many an Amazon Christmas. I tried to scale back on that this year and shopped more locally — I even trekked to a local bison farm for bison wool yarn for one of my knitting friends. Of course, many friends and fam have or will receive scrapbooking and photo-related gifts from Creative Memories this year (no surprise there!).

Blog Caroling: Good King Wenceslas

“Good King Wenceslas” is one of the first tunes I learned to play on the piano — it’s not very popular on the radio, but it’s a sentimental favorite.

“Good King Wenceslas last looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

Treasure Chest Thursday: Little Golden Rudolph

I was an avid reader as a kid and loved a lot of the stories around Christmas. I still have this Little Golden Book version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I remember having a storybook for Twas the Night Before Christmas. I also enjoyed reading the various Christmas stories in book series like Little House on the Prairie.

This is post #17 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Christmas at School

This is post #16 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

I remember the days leading up to Christmas during my grade school years as being akin to those before summer break — absolutely no substantial learning took place. There were gifts for the teacher and classroom parties. I’m sure it’s no easy feat to hold the attention of fidgety 5- to 11-year-olds in either scenario, so I certainly do not blame the teachers.

I remember sitting inside toasty classrooms, making construction paper Santas with cotton-ball beards. I remember doing word finds and other games that revolved around the holidays. I remember singing many a carol, at least during my K-4th grade days (Catholic school). I don’t remember taking part in any Christmas pageants, strangely enough.

Holiday Travel

This is post #13 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Growing up, we almost always drove from Silver Spring, Md., to Alexandria, Va., on Christmas Day, to spend the afternoon and evening with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. The drive was maybe 30-40 minutes back then. Sometimes Mom would take us through downtown Washington instead of swinging around the Beltway. I loved driving past the Pentagon and the lights of the monuments on the drive home at night.

Mom and my sister moved to New Mexico after I finished high school and so then I started flying for the holidays. I remember many dicey flights on Northwest to Albuquerque. After one harrowing landing on an icy runway in Minneapolis that caused the plane to buck and fishtail, one of the flight attendants announced over the intercom, “That, ladies and gentelemen, is why you wear your seatbelt.”

I’m actually surprised, looking back, that I didn’t experience more delays and problem flights given how much I was flying in winter weather between Washington-ABQ and then eventually Boston-Knoxville. Also, in all those years, I had only one lost bag.

Which reminds me of the time I arrived in Knoxville on Christmas Eve so famished that I begged Mom to take me to the Chili’s in the airport before we drove to her house. Halfway through my margarita, I was surprised to hear my name over the airport speaker system — I’d forgotten to claim my bag at the baggage carousel! Friends who’ve known me and my stomach know that it’s not unusual for me to have a one-track mind when I’m hungry.

Other Traditions

This is post #11 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Some of my most vibrant memories are from the first time I tried something or learned something completely new. This blog prompt, which mentions Hanukkah, immediately reminded me of my first exposure to the Jewish holiday.

Up until I was 9 years old, I attended a private Catholic school and my exposure to other cultures was fairly limited. When I started attending public school in the 5th grade, one of my closest friends was Jewish. That holiday season, I was introduced to Hanukkah.

My friend and her mom did an excellent job of telling me the story behind the holiday and explaining the customs. I vividly remember my first time playing Spin the Dreidel (we played for gummy soda bottles and other candy). I had a blast! It was a wonderful introduction to the culture and I’ll always remember that time fondly.

Treasure Chest Thursday: Christmas Gifts

This is post #10 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

My Christmas morning “Red Rider BB Gun Moment” came when I was 16 years old. I had always wanted a TV of my own, but I never even bothered to ask — I could list the litany of reasons this was a bad idea on my own, without prompting them from my mom.

So, when I saw the TV box with a bow on top nestled under the Christmas tree that year, I just figured it was for my mom’s room or for her office. As my sister and I took turns reaching under the tree for gifts to unwrap, I didn’t give that one a second glance. No way that one was for me.

After the last of my gifts had been unwrapped, I remember being pretty satisfied with that year’s haul. But I don’t recall what else I got that year because of what transpired next. My mom pointed in the direction of the TV box and said, “Aren’t you going to open that one?”

“WHAT? For me? Are you serious?” was all I could say. Many “thank yous” and “I don’t believe its” then followed. It dawned on me a short time later that I knew exactly when my mom had gone to buy the TV — two days after I had picked her up from the hospital following surgery on a herniated disc, I chastised her for trying to go Christmas shopping with a friend of hers. In one of those role-reversal moments, I scolded her for trying to overdo it as she hobbled out the door. I even offered to go pick up whatever it was she was going to buy — of course, she turned down that offer.

The TV was a 13-inch — puny by today’s standards. But I spent many a night watching bad made-for-TV movies on it (we didn’t have cable). It then saw me through college, serving me and my college roomies well for our movie marathons. I still have it, though now it requires a special converter box to hook it up to a DVD player. I almost gave it away when I moved earlier this year, but there were no takers. I’m glad I hung onto it after all.

My All-Time Favorite Holiday Cookie Recipe

This is post #8 for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Okay, so I got the appetizer out of the way. Now, I’m skipping straight to dessert.

One Christmas about a decade ago, while visiting my mom, I pored over her cookbooks, recipe cards and magazine clippings for the dishes I loved so much growing up. I was finally out of college, with a kitchen I could cook in, and I was desperate to recreate many of those dishes on my own.

Among the recipes I copied down were several for cookies. Chocolate chip cookies were the standard throughout the year at our house growing up, but at Christmas… Oh, at Christmas. That’s when all the special recipes were made — gingerbread men, chocolate butter cookies (for the cookie press), peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s Kisses on top, molasses cookies, pfeffernüsse (literally, pepper nuts), almond crescents, we made them all.

My all-time favorite holiday cookies always mesmerized me as a child, the way the powdered-sugared crusts of the cookies would split and crackle, revealing the dark chocolate yumminess inside. And all of this was topped with a nonpareil (Now, how do you pronounce that? Non-peril or Non-pair-eye?).

I so wish I had a picture of these cookies. Hmmm… might just have to bake some, so I can take some pics. That’s the kind of sacrifice I’m willing to make for you, my readers. In the meantime, imagine these with these on top.

Here is the recipe for Sugar-Coated Chocolate Cookies:

1/2 c. butter
3 1-oz. squares unsweetened chocolate
2 c. sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. powdered sugar
1 pkg. nonpareils

Directions: Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees (F). Melt the butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over low heat; combine the sugar, flour and baking powder in a large bowl; add the chocolate mixture, eggs and vanilla; mix until smooth (will be thin). Cover and chill for 2 hours. Roll into 1-inch balls and roll these in the powdered sugar. Bake 2 inches apart on lightly greased cookie sheets for 10-12 minutes. Press one nonpareil onto each cookie as soon as they come out of the oven.

12/29/2009 UPDATE: Picture now available! Just baked a batch of these with my sis:

Holiday Parties

This is blog post #7 for the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Me & Grandma on New Year's Eve

My mom and dad used to have my aunts and grandma over for New Years Eve when I was real little. I remember trying to stay up with them at the age of 4 or 5. My dad would blow into a little horn (which I still have), resulting in ridiculous sounds at the stroke of midnight. I especially thought it was fun if one of my aunts and/or my grandma was spending the night.

Mom at the Holiday Table, 1985

In the above photo, the plastic Christmas tree I blogged about previously serves as a centerpiece.

Grandma Clearing the Dishes, 1985

I can only imagine my dad took these shots from 1985 because 1) it’s the kind of thing he would do; 2) he’s the only one my grandma would have stood for to take the photo; and 3) my mom and aunts all appear in similar shots from that year.

My Tragic Tale of Ol’ St. Nick

This is post #6 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Growing up, we celebrated St. Nicholas Day by putting our shoes outside of our bedroom the night before. When we awoke, St. Nick would have stopped by, depositing candy, coins and other such treats inside our shoes.

After crawling into bed and dozing off one night when I was 7 years old, I awoke with a start in the middle of the night. I had forgotten that the next day was St. Nicholas Day! I hurriedly pulled out my saddle shoes (part of my school uniform) and stuck them outside my door, praying that I hadn’t done so too late.

You can imagine what awaited me when I awoke: empty shoes. I was absolutely despondent.

I ran into the kitchen crying to my mom — St. Nicholas had missed me! Was I horrible child? Was it because I put my shoes out too late?

My mom had a stricken look on her face (guess who else had forgotten). You know what happened next.

It was early and my mom couldn’t think of anything else to tell me. She sat me down, hugged me and told me the truth about St. Nick and about Santa (they were both the same being and separate, in my 7-year-old mind).

Of course, then it all came crashing down. “You mean, the Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy too?” My mom just nodded and then gave me a very stern look. “Don’t you even think about telling your little sister.”

I was warned not to tell anyone at school either — my mom explained that many of the other students would still believe and it wasn’t for me to explain the truth. Of course, the notion of Santa came up several times in school between that day and Christmas. It was all I could do not to blurt out the truth.