Friday, December 16, 2011

Embracing Holiday Traditions

The leaves have given up their will to live and slowly drift through the crisp air to the ground below where the soil will cover their dried remains. Nature will begin its hibernation and relinquish the fury of winter for all to experience. Dusk begins to make an earlier appearance and Fathertime drags his feet during the colder months of the year. The holiday season rolls around to bless all with its presence and cheer. Traditions from long ago make their way to the surface as families practice customs of the generations before them along with their own twist on family rituals to share with friends and loved ones.
When I was a young girl, the Christmas festivities started when ‘Charlie Brown’s Christmas’ came on T.V. and we all sat around to watch poor Charlie and his sad little tree. We would hang ornaments on the fresh pine tree and around the house while we listened to The Peanuts anthem playing in the background. That was a tradition my mom had started for my sister and I, but she also incorporated an older tradition to remember those in our family who lived before our generation. Every Christmas, after we decorated the tree, we would put fresh oranges by the presents as a symbol of what was once a precious commodity in my grandfather’s family. He was the youngest of 19 children and was raised on a farm in Arkansas. Finances were often stretched pretty thin, especially for a family of 21, but every year under the Christmas tree all the children received an orange as their special gift at Christmas. They looked forward to eating the fresh fruit and singing Christmas carols with one another. They learned to appreciate the little things, a trait I think most of today’s society has forgotten about. When my grandfather passed away, we started another tradition of lighting a small candle at midnight on Christmas Eve in remembrance of his life and how much he loved Christmas. We turned all the lights off in the house (with the exception of the tree lights) and watched the candle flicker in the dark for a few minutes before going off to sleep, and before Santa came, of course! Everyone knew Santa came at 12:20a.m. PST in California, well that's what we were told anyway, while the rest of the world got Santa at midnight on the dot! Did I mention I have since been emotionally wounded by Santa's time schedule? Anyhow, moving on....
By the end of high school and into college, I was initiated into my husband’s family tradition of making homemade tamales at the beginning of December. All the women, old and young alike, gather on a Saturday morning for a short breakfast then the assembly line begins. I have the job of mixing the 20lb. bag of masa and seasonings before spreading the mixture over the husks. Talk about a work out! My arms are like rubber bands the next day! I usually mix 2-3 batches of masa…60lbs of the stuff! My nieces, sister-in-laws, aunts and cousins all join in the festivities with my mother-in-law leading the bunch. She is the head hauncho, the big cheese, the heffa, whatever you want to call her…she’s leading this crazy group of ladies while we make over 80 dozen of the delicious treats to hand out at Christmas.  Let me tell you, my mother-in-laws tamales are TO DIE FOR and are like gold around these parts! Seriously!
Having kids will usually turn any hardnosed person into mush, especially around the holidays! I have started a tradition in my own family beginning December 1st and carrying on until December 25th when we watch a Christmas movie everyday leading up to the BIG DAY! We call it Christmas Movie Marathon and we look forward to it every year. During our time watching the movie, we make traditional decorations such as paper chain wreaths, paper snowflakes, popcorn strings, pinecone ornaments, gingerbread houses and a sugar cookie decorating contest (Steep competition and the stakes are high, worst cookie has to do the dishes...just kidding, but maybe I should start implementing that rule since my husbands cookies are always dreadful and sad).
I have also started having a separate tradition with my mother and grandmother during a three day baking marathon where all the goodies are distributed to our close family and friends as a great homemade Christmas gift to show our love for them. It’s a wonderful way to spend time with my mom and grandma while continuing to carry on the family recipes and secret ingredients that make our goodies so tasty!  When baking has commenced, we take the treats and wrap them in brown parcel paper with twine, just like they used to in the old days! I’ll admit, Christmas is by far my favorite holiday not only because of all the lights and festivities, but more importantly because I get to make lasting memories for future generations to come through the experiences I have had, as well as my children who will hopefully, in turn, pass on the legacy to their children.
During this lovely time in the season, I wish everyone Happy Holidays and a blessed New Year! Embrace the special moments you get to share with family & friends and appreciate the little things! Warmest wishes, Kate

If you have a family or holiday tradition you would like to share, leave a comment! I would love to hear your story!

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