Saturday, December 11, 2010

Old and New

Advent Box 

Christmas traditions... Mmmmn.  Inspired by thoughts I had after reading Sara's post here.

I'll start with the old.  They are easiest to remember for me, instantly evocative of other times, places,  and people.  

Advent Box
The original box was made by my mother, and my brothers and sisters and I eagerly awaited the opening of each drawer every day before Christmas; inside miniature sweets would await, to be shared out between us.  
Ours is made by my sister, out of twenty-four matchboxes, narrow ribbon, and some fabric.  I have changed the contents of the box from the traditional sweets, to stickers or temporary tattoos.  The Boys -and now Coo, too- love stickers and are excited every day to see what the tiny drawer holds, in our countdown to Christmas.

Gingerbread People
I can still recall the brown, spicy taste of gingerbread in my mouth around the age of four!  I've always loved it and can remember Mom baking and freezing gingerbread people during December.  We would take these yummy cookie people out of the freezer, decorate them, and eat them!  This was the perfect anticipatory treat in the days leading up to December 25th.
Now, I do the same, baking and freezing gingerbread people so we can take them out for decoration whenever we feel like it.

Christmas Day Breakfast
Growing up, this was usually some type of sweet roll or coffeecake made by my mother.  In later years, it would include sausage or bacon.  We would all rummage through our stockings, exclaiming over the tiny treats Mom was so gifted at finding, listen to Dad read the Christmas story, and smell breakfast.  
This is still my favourite time on Christmas Day, so we repeat this tradition with our own family. Stockings, story, homemade baking breakfast, mmmn...  We rarely have treats for breakfast, which helps keep Christmas breakfast special.

Cranberry Cake and Butter Sauce
It's much worse than it sounds.  One cup of butter... one cup of double cream... Sugar... And that's just the sauce!  But this almond-essenced cake, baked in a bundt tin, smells just like Christmas to me.  In fact, I think I've probably missed out on it only once in all my Christmases.   It's lovely when served up; beautifully ridged slices of cake are jewelled throughout with deep red cranberries standing out in dark contrast to the creamy yellow cake.  The sauce, steaming hot, is poured over and it soaks into the cake.. just a bit.  This is one food tradition that's staying put in this family!

Christmas Stockings
My mother loved miniature things, and our medium-sized stockings (handmade and embroidered with our names) always contained plenty of these.  
In our own home, we've carried this tradition on and for their first Christmas, our children have all received a handmade stocking with their name embroidered on the front.  
I fill it with clementines, chocolate coins, tiny bags of sweets and boxes of raisins, and any gifts they've received from family or friends that will fit in the stocking.  I compete with myself to see how many of their presents I can fit into the stocking!  This year, we're buying the boys much-needed woolly gloves and socks (fun ones, with the days of the week written on them), and these will go into their stockings, too.  

What a list!  The mention of all the food already makes me feel like detoxing with a cup of hot green tea! Yummy...

Anyway!  On to the new.

St Nicholas Bag
This little cloth bag hangs on our stairs, tiny fairy lights illuminating the space around it.  It is for secret donations only, and sometimes I see one of the Boys slipping pennies into it.  Mr J stealthily dropped in a few dimes the other day, becoming confused between his English and American piggybanks!  After Christmas, we will count up the money and make a communal decision on the recipient.  It will be given anonymously, in the tradition of St Nicholas.

Christmas Shopping 
I've just finished my fourth year of individual shopping trips with each of the children.  We've never made Christmas wish lists or asked the kids what they wanted to "get" for Christmas, instead we've always talked about what they wanted to "give".  This focus on Christmas as a giving holiday instead of a getting one has become the driving force behind our Christmas celebrations, so these trips were a natural progression for us. Righty and I went yesterday on our own, walking to our nearby town centre, spending several hours enjoying each other's company and talking about what he thought he'd like to give members of our family. For his two brothers, he instantly decided on goalie gloves, the must-have football accessories this year, after the World Cup sparked their interest.  He chose to give Coo a "time" present, which will be his offer to spend a bit of time playing "baby stuff" with her every day.  Apparently, I am also receiving a time present from him.  Daddy's wasn't difficult for him to decide on, either, and our shopping was soon finished.  We ended our trip by visiting our local Starbucks, chatting and sharing memories the entire time.  Every year has been different; some years they've done a bit of online shopping with me as well as the shopping trip, in order to get just the right thing for someone.  They always ask me what the needs are of the person they're choosing the gift for, and make their decision based on that.  At the moment, we pay for most of the gifts they choose, though they use pocket money to cover part of the cost.

Christmas Eve Lunch
Simplicity itself, but becoming a tried and true part of our day before Christmas.  We have homemade cream of tomato soup, crunchy celery, carrot sticks, and dill pickles, and slices of cheese.  We usually share this lunch with Dan's sister, though we'll be missing her this year because she's in Australia for the next six months!

Boxing Day Big Feed
This is just like the Big Feed we attend every first weekend of the month, but on Boxing Day - December 26th.  We will be sharing a Christmas meal with our local homeless and hostel-dwelling friends, and sending them away with Christmas gifts and food bags.  Though the children don't come with Dan and I every month, I'm hoping that on Boxing Day they can join us for part of the day, too!

Christmas Trips
Because any wants or needs are taken care of by the gifts purchased for each other on their individual shopping trips, Dan and I don't give the Boys and Coo anything other than the goodies and little necessaries in their stockings, and a special envelope to open on Christmas Day.  Inside their envelopes are the details of a planned trip to be taken in the new year, either with both or just one parent.  This year, Mr J will get to go with both Dan and I to see a performance of a children's play, and we'll have lunch out together.  The Boys are going on separate trips to London with Daddy to spend an entire day at the (free!) Science Museum, and out to eat afterwards.  These days will also include packed lunches and travelling on the train, which the Boys will find very exciting.

For the future, I am so thrilled about incorporating new traditions!  I've already picked up a few ideas here and there that I'd like to introduce next year.  Some of these include celebrating St Nicholas Day, on December the 6th; an Advent calendar with "things to do" each day in anticipation of Christmas Day's arrival; and observing Advent, which we did one year but haven't instituted as a tradition.

Our snow of last week has disappeared, leaving behind a muddy mess.  I was in town today, exasperated by the onslaught of stuff and consumerism. I have just vowed -as I do every year- to never send Christmas cards again.

Something about writing this has re-focused me, reminded me of the Jesus in Christmas.  I'm feeling Christmassy again but it's not coming from a satisfaction with the things around me.  It's a deep down knowledge that the beauty and creativity we demonstrate through following our Christmas traditions as a family are borne of our love for our Jesus.  He is the true life behind all that we do! 


  1. just disregard the envelope you receive from the rainey's!! hee hee.... we haven't done cards in a few years and i caved this year! LOVED reading your post... as always!

  2. Haha... It arrived yesterday! Thank you... Yours is on the way; in a freakishly large envelope because I miscalculated the card/photograph sizes! Maybe if I start them next year in September... yeah right. :)

  3. I so LOVED this made my holiday season! such inspiration and beautiful tradition both old and new.

  4. Beautiful, Erin.

  5. Erin, this is so beautiful. Just what I needed to read today!


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