Monday, December 3, 2012

Winter Traditions

We heroines (and one hero!) of fantasy have been busy. Writing, editing, work, family...and now the holidays are upon us. I don't know about you, but once Halloween hits, the end of my year goes into warp speed. I feel like no sooner are the pumpkins cut open for the crows than the Christmas tree is being tossed onto the bonfire with a whoosh and a crackle and a warm, glowing series of pops.

I look forward to the slower pace of January, February, March when my brain isn't on overdrive. Still, there is something magical about this chaotic time of year. I thought it might be nice to break away from the usual here on Heroines of Fantasy, and instead revel in the joy, the excitement, the special moments with family and friends.

The food.

Holiday foods seem to lean heavily on tradition. We all have that holiday fare culture or region give to us. I'm a Jersey Italian, and southern Italian at that. This time of year is full of some really nasty tidbits, like fried smelts and baccala. Don't let the pictures fool you, this stuff reeks! I don't care how they taste, there's no getting away from the smell.

It lingers for days--on your clothes, in your house, your hair, cats, rugs. It doesn't matter if you've cooked it, or only had it brought to you. I am pretty sure that the twelve days of Christmas has its origins in how long it takes for the smell to dissipate.
We're not even going to talk about the tripe.

In my home, we don't do the traditional seven fishes on Christmas Eve. We go out for dinner, because Christmas Eve is cookie-baking day--a tradition all its own, and not even remotely related to being Italian. Well, except the feeding people part. It started when my oldest was a junior in high school. I don't know why I waited so last minute to bake the Christmas cookies that year, but I had. With all the ingredients out and ready, I was not prepared for my daughter's million friends to drop by--but they did.

For the next several hours, my kids, my daughter's friends and I mixed and baked and ate cookies and talked and laughed and ate more. I went through about a gallon of milk, a box of tea, and several dozen cookies, but it was one of the best Christmas Eves on record.

We continued the tradition through high school, then college, and even after they were all out in the world, doing their thing. One year this one couldn't make it, another year that one couldn't. Whoever could make it, came. The tradition continues to a lesser degree with the other kids' friends. My oldest daughter, now married with a child of her own, still comes home every Christmas Eve to bake cookies. Once in a while, one of the other "kids" will drop by. It's enough.

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Unknown said...

Our family has a few traditions we've been tweaking to make our own for some time. We used to have both sides of the family over for a big dinner with turkey and a prime rib, all sorts of side dishes, etc.

But in recent years, we have decided to slow things down so we don't have to rush all over the place. We usually buy a tree around the 10th, get around to decorating it a few days later once it thaws out. I hang lights on the house and try not to break my neck by falling off the roof. Sometimes I remember to turn on the lights. We try to have a fire in the fireplace if everyone isn't sick.

One year we roasted chestnuts and after realizing that you should poke a hole in the shell, we started cleaning fragments of chestnut out of the kids' hair and vowing never again to do that. It's really a process of elimniation to see what traditions won't work.

Sometimes we hunker down for a day or so and play video games. Maybe check out after-Christmas sales. Go sledding if there is snow. Then we take the tree down by Groundhog Day. Hey, it was a lot of work to put up!

Terri-Lynne said... crack me up. Hahahhaaa! Hey, tradition is tradition!

Anonymous said...

My scottish grandmother made thick, buttery, mouthwatering scotch shortbread every christmas. She'd load the chunks into big round tins and deliver them to family and friends during the christmas season. I have tried to carry on the christmas tradition by making Nana's shortbread and, following her specific secrets, have come close to replicating the same flavors. Traditions are a beautiful reminder of our past. Yikes I just realized I've gone wheat-free this year. Well, I'm still making and eating those cookies...for Nana!
Great post!

Terri-Lynne said...

Sharon--yours is the BEST shortbread I've ever had. Last December was my first CoLoNy meeting, and I damn near gave myself a stroke trying to resist. I did take a few pieces home, saying they were for my kids. I think ONE piece actually got far enough to give them a crumb or two.

Unknown said...

This will be the first year in several where we'll have the time and money to make stuff. I'm hoping to make a pile of goodies and put them on plates for the neighbours. Even the one I don't like. :P Butter tarts, shortbread, cookies, banana bread and fudge. Although I'm leery of the banana bread. Last time I made it, it didn't turn out very well. :(

Terri-Lynne said...

Darke--BUTTER TARTS!!! Oh, yum. I had GOOD ones only once, but they were beyond divine. Usually, what passes for butter tarts in the US is pretty damn gross.

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Growing up, the best part of Christmas were the German Christmas carols, and getting all the goodies from my grandparents overseas in the mail. Especially the traditional German sweetbread, called "Stolen" (many of our friends kept asking where we had stolen it from...), handmade by my Grandmother.

In Germany, presents are opened on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. My parents reached a nice intercultural compromise on this by having the family dinner and gift exchange Christmas Eve, and then letting Santa come and leave presents American-style for Christmas morning. We kids always thought we had the best deal that way -- we got 2 days of presents instead of just one!

Now, Christmas is an amalgamation of German, American and Costa Rican traditions. One thing I love about Costa Rican Christmases is how everyone starts celebrating on December 1. Why wait until Christmas Eve if you can party the whole month through? The traditional holiday food there are tamales wrapped in banana leaves, with liberal portions of the one-and-only Salsa Lisano -- very different from the Mexican-style tamales that tend to be more common here in the US. And December in Costa Rica is a great time to grill; the weather is mild and sunny, so holiday get-togethers inevitably involve grilled steaks, kabobs, and other great treats.

I could go on and on, but I guess I'll stop there. I've always enjoyed the Christmas season, no matter where I am or who I am with.

Thanks for a great post, Terri. And Merry Christmas!

Terri-Lynne said...

Karin--we always had one gift to open on Christmas Eve, in Italian tradition, and the rest from Santa on Christmas morning. I carried that tradition on with my kids, with a slight twist--they all got special Christmas jammies on Christmas Eve. They loved it, and it remains one of those holiday traditions they think on fondly.

Frank and I always exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, at midnight, after all the kids were in bed. We still do.

Debbie Christiana said...

When I was younger we did the seven fishes at my Sicilian grandmothers, but my husband, I and the kids don't love fish. So on xmas eve we have our neighbors over (17 yrs now) and have chicken, bracioles, Stromboli artichokes and a few stuffed clam and shrimp cocktail. Oh, and lots of vino!

Nice post.

Terri-Lynne said...

Debbie--those are still very ITALIAN! I love it.

A dollar to anyone else who knows what bracioles are! hehee!