Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Tradition #4: The Christmas Tree 

My daughter Amanda was born on the 16th of December in the 97th General Hospital, Frankfurt, Germany. My husband was stationed at Ayers Kaserne "the Rock" at Kirch-Göns and we rode to the hospital in our VW fastback sedan, best car I ever owned. In the years that followed I got into the habit of decorating by December 6th (St Nicholas Day), but saving the tree for the 16th. We decorated the tree on Amanda’s birthday, which worked out just right since we always had a real tree in those days, and falling needles were a bit of a problem.
When I got home from Iraq I bought a white artificial tree. It’s really pretty with red and gold ornaments and white lights. But after spending the evening with my daughter and her family last night celebrating her birthday, and watching everyone decorate the Christmas tree, (and smelling the fresh tree J ) I have decided to return to the “old tradition”. It will be a live tree at the Grimm’s next year, and we will be decorating it on the 16th. In the mean time I am enjoying my pretty white tree. After all, it’s the family that gathers around it that makes it a Real Christmas Tree.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Tradition #3: St Nicholas Day

Another wonderful tradition I learned and have carried with me from Germany is St. Nicholas Day. St Nicholas comes around to the homes with children to leave small gifts for the good little girls and boys, and coal for the naughty ones. On the evening of the 5th of December I set my shoes near the front door and on the morning of the 6th I would come out of my room to find my shoes filled with chocolate candies, fruits, and coins. And for some reason he always lined my shoes with foil first. I think that was because my mother was a nurse and he knew it would bother her for me to eat treats out of shoes that had been worn J .

Later, when I was 12 and my little brother, Scott, was 4 we were lucky enough to live in the American housing on Hawkins Barracks just outside of Oberammergau, Germany. On the evening of December 6th we rode around the streets of that incredibly picturesque town, with heaping piles of snow along the sidewalks and saw the many St. Nicklaus’s walking to the homes of children they had been invited to visit. Some of them were accompanied by a donkey and a dirty faced helper named Krampus or Ruprecht, but who my family called Rufas. St. Nicholas was dressed in flowing red and white robes with a tall bishops hat and carried a gold crook or staff. I believe the children in the homes recited lessons and told St. Nicholas how they had been very good during the year. I remember one year in particular when a large trailer (or flatbed, more likely) brought St. Nicholas into the American housing. It was really wonderful for him to visit us, establishing St. Nicholas’ Day as a Christmas Tradition for my family lasting through my childhood, my children’s childhood and now my grandchildren’s as well.  

Christmas Tradition #2: Advant Calendars

When I was a kid, lo those many years ago, my family was living in American housing in Frankfurt, Germany. Daddy, SGT Cowling at the time, was stationed there and I had the great fortune of learning some of the German Christmas traditions. The Advent Calendar seems to have always been an important part of Christmas for me. Each morning I jumped out of bed (that really was many years ago!) and opened the next little door on the Calendar, slowly counting down the days. The tiny pictures were better than treats or gifts. They were magical.  Those little calendars helped me learn to savor the days before ‘The Big Day’, enjoying the anticipation as much as any child is able to do. I still have one of the calendars and put it up each year to remind me to savor the journey, not just the destination.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Tradition #1: Making Gifts

Many of my favorite Christmas traditions take place in the kitchen. Just leafing through the recipes in Mom’s ‘Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book 1953 Edition brings to life my memories of making Christmas candy and baking cookies in the cinnamon scented, powdered sugary kitchen of my childhood. Over the years I’ve added some new recipes and gift ideas to the list. Here are a few of my favorites.



Things to do between Thanksgiving and Christmas


Orange pomanders – Select firm oranges without blemishes. Punch holes over a small area of the orange with something like a knitting needle, grilling fork or ice pick. Press a whole clove into each of the holes, and then punch holes over an adjoining small area. Repeat until the orange skin is studded in cloves. Dust with cinnamon, wrap in tissue and place in a cool closet or cupboard for three to four weeks to dry, turning daily. Remove the tissue paper and wrap a ribbon across the pomander like tying a package. Leave a loop of ribbon at the top so that the orange can be hung from a hanger to scent a closet.


Cinnamon ornaments – Stir together 1 cup cinnamon, 1 teaspoon allspice, and 1 teaspoon nutmeg. Gradually stir in 1 cup of applesauce (more or less) until you have a firm dough. Roll out to ¼ inch or a little thicker (no thinner) and cut with cookie cutters. Poke a hole near the top of each ornament with a soda straw or wooden skewer. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 200 F until dry, about 2 hours. Let them cool and air dry on a cookie rack overnight then hang them from the tree, wrap as gifts, and/or attach them to gifts under the tree.


Candied orange and lemon slices – My favorite method is to slice a couple of oranges in half, then into ¼ inch slices. Drop the slices into boiling salted water and boil just till they float. Spoon the slices out of the boiling water in to a bowl of ice water to cool. Lift the slices to a cookie rack to drip-dry a bit. Boil together 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar just until the sugar is dissolved. Put the orange slices into a heat resistant jar such as a large canning jar, or bowl. (I like to use the jar because it’s easy to work with and doesn’t take up as much cabinet space.) Pour the hot syrup over the slices. Need to cover the orange slices, and then hold them under the syrup. You can set a sturdy plastic bag holding water on top of the cooled syrup/fruit to hold the slices under the liquid. Place the jar in a cool dark closet or cabinet.

Every day for the next 2 weeks drain off the syrup and add ½ cup of sugar to it. Heat just enough to dissolve the sugar, and then pour it back over the orange slices.

The slices can be given as gifts in small jars covered with syrup, or air dried, sprinkled with sugar and placed in a cookie tin or box.


Pies in a jar – This one is new to me this year but is definitely a “keeper”. I originally found the instructions, posted by BROOKLYNSUPPER online at “the family kitchen” and have seen many variations since.

Make up your favorite pie crust recipe and roll out as usual. Use several pieces of the dough to completely line the inside of a half pint canning jar pressing the edges together. Fill the crust about 2/3s full with your favorite apple, cherry, peach, etc. pie filling. Use the jar ring to measure a circle and cut it out. Place the circle on top, and seal the edges of the crusts together. Cut simple or decorative vents in the top crust. Stand the jars in a 9x13 cake pan (to catch drips) and then bake at 375F for 15 to 18 minutes or until crust is brown and the filling is bubbly.

Alternately, you can assemble the pies and freeze them to be baked later.

There are loads of variations to each of these instructions online, and some nice ‘walk troughs’ on YouTube. My rule is to “keep it simple, keep it fun”. And don’t forget to put on the Christmas Carols in the background!