At times, days and weeks go by before my dad ever comes to my thought. Lately I have had strong remembrances of family, my mom, dad, and grandma. Usually it comes stronger at the holidays, especially thoughts about my dad. For some reason he loved Christmas. The funny part is I am not sure he did much to make Christmas happen in my house. My mom bought or more likely made our gifts, staying up many all nighters to get them done in time, wrapped them, and put them under the tree often at the wee hours of Christmas morning. She made the cookies, desserts, and homemade gifts for friends and teachers. To top it all off, she also made a meal for Christmas eve, our Christmas morning breakfast, and a big meal on Christmas day. I think my dad was into the decorations. The Santas, elves, sleighs, and nativity scenes.
In January, my dad will have been gone for 15 years. We put up our Christmas tree on Sunday, and somehow I have convinced Chris to keep white lights in a tree outside our living room window year-round. My dad would probably smile knowing that I am trying to keep that Christmas spirit. I think about him as I watch my niece grow up and wonder what it would be like for him to have his first grandchild coo and crawl all over him. Next weekend he would have been 73. I see him (when I notice) as I walk down our hallway of family photos. I am pictured at my niece’s age, head full of curls and he, covered with a beard in the late 1970’s. I think about him when I find a favorite childhood book and remember my reading to him. Those were those moments when I remember he was most calm and patient.
I wonder at times what it will be like when I have kids of my own, and how many times I will wish there was a contact in my phone that said: Mom and another that said Dad. Would they text with me? Would they meet up with old friends on Facebook? It is so hard to know, they have been gone for so long that I no longer know who they would have grown to become. Yet, I will do what I can each year to continue the Christmas spirit in my own way, however it may feel right each year. Whether that means to dote on my niece who does not have my mom and dad to dote on her, or whether that means to donate toys to kids in my community.
What I think my dad wanted was to feel apart of something bigger than himself. We can all do that in so many differing ways, all keeping with the Christmas spirit of giving.
If you celebrate Christmas, do you have a tradition of hanging a stocking? Chris and I have not done it at all during our marriage, but growing up it was part of our tradition. We did not have a fireplace, or mantle to hang our stockings, but instead my dad hammered nails into this makeshift bookcase. It was about my height at the time, so maybe four feet high, and we each had our own stocking. Even our dog, who always received dog bones of different varieties — from rawhide to Milkbone, and if our dog was lucky maybe a new toy. Probably to distract them from all the sounds, lights, and interesting happenings in the house.
Everyone’s stocking was different. My grandma knit my sister’s, brother’s, and mine. I have no idea how she did it, but she knit our names into the stocking so we always knew if it was ours. She was an impressive knitter, and I still have my childhood stocking today. While we never received much at Christmas, for some reason my stocking always intrigued me. What did my stocking usually contain? At the bottom (and I think to weigh it down) there was usually an apple or orange. Followed by a pair of socks, a handful of candy, and maybe a tiny toy. Every once in a while there was a coloring book or some sort of object that did not fit into the stocking itself. Any items that did not fit were laid on the floor just below the stocking.
The tradition was that we were not allowed to leave our rooms on Christmas morning until we were given the approval from our parents. We would scurry out to the living room to scope out the Christmas tree and whether Santa had made it to our house that year. Were the milk and cookies gone? Then we were allowed to go to our stockings and dump out the contents. We could do whatever we wanted, play with anything included, and even have our own candy. We were not allowed to touch any gifts. Then we had breakfast together (my mom’s coffee cake). Once everyone finished their breakfast (my parents made us stay at the table for what felt like forever) we would make it back to the living room and our Christmas tree to open the presents that were under the tree.
I have not had a traditional Christmas since I was twelve, and so that was probably the last time I had a stocking too. These days I am such a minimalist. I do not want “stuff” just to give/get. Thus, we have not continued the tradition. Maybe someday I will knit a new stocking for a little one and start our version of stocking traditions on Christmas morning.
Holiday traditions. I am a bit of a Scrooge. My sister and dad were always so much more into the holidays, and somehow that gene did not find its way into my veins. Call me crazy, or extremely practical, but oftentimes the holidays are just another day in the grand scheme of things. I appreciate them as a day to relax, recharge, and be slow.
So, having said all that what’s your favorite holiday tradition? We both love to sleep in (who does not whenever possible). Maybe it is because we do not have kids yet, but we do not really have many/any holiday traditions. The one thing we often do is make my mom’s coffee cake. I like it, Chris likes it, and it is easy to make. It is nothing fancy, just a Betty Crocker (Picture Cookbook circa 1950) recipe that I doctor and adapt to my own liking, but something about it reminds me of my childhood. Somehow my family (and often my grandma) split a 9 x 9 pan of coffee cake (how did we ever do that!)? We would get up on Thanksgiving or Christmas morning and have it right away (before presents or anything). I have my mother’s Betty Crocker cookbook copy. The hole punched page has ripped out and the page itself is worn and splotched.
Stir together thoroughly:
3/4 cup Sugar
1/4 cup unsalted Butter (or shortening):
Note: I only use butter and it should be soft
1/2 cup Milk
Sift together and stir in (I never sift though):
1 1/2 cup Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
Streusel Mixture: 3/4 cup Brown Sugar
2 teaspoons Cinnamon 2 tablespoons melted unsalted Butter
Set oven to 375 degrees
Spread batter in greased and floured 9″ pan. Sprinkle with desired topping. Bake until wooden pick thrust into center of cake comes out clean. Serve warm, fresh from oven.
Baker note: I go on instinct for the amount of brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon I put together. I sprinkle it on top of the batter and then cut tiny sized chunks of unsalted butter and place them randomly all over the top of the streusel. It makes for more of a crunchy, yummy topping. It is my adaptation. Also, I use the above topping, there are other options for toppings in the cookbook.
Recipe note: Be sure that your “wooden pick thrust into center of cake comes clean” (who uses the word thrust)?