The author is a sucker for ceramic village scenes. Their decline in popularity make them easy to find. PHOTO BY MEGAN SMITH
When I think back on my childhood Christmas, there are certain words and memories that stay with me most throughout the years. Silver tinsel, Santa Claus wrapping paper, sticky square bottomed bows, Charlie Brown carols on my tape player, and watching my mom unwrap the gift I bought her each year at the jewelry counter at JC Penney.
Now, well into my 30s, I get to play this amazing role of mother to three small boys on Christmas morning. What a gift. This year, I sat down with family around our kitchen table and we talked about words (A through Z) that come to mind when we think of our Christmas here at home.
Advent Calendar. There are some really inventive Advent calendars nowadays. We stay pretty old school with ours (a throw back to my childhood days) and buy the cardboard picture, perforated sort with waxy chocolate behind each door.
Board Games. This time of year is board game season with puzzles, Scrabble and Monopoly being the usual suspects. Now that most sporting events and school activities have settled down, game nights make a great evening activity before an early bedtime.
Cocoa. Hot cocoa is not a luxury this time of year but a necessity. For years I knew hot cocoa as Hershey’s syrup mixed with milk and popped into the microwave. There are thousands of homemade recipes, but on a cold winter afternoon, nothing beats the recipe on the back of the Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa box.
Decorated Christmas Paper. One of our favorite ways to wrap gifts is to buy a big roll of brown paper (sold at hardware stores) and let the kids decorate each piece before we wrap gifts. They write notes, draw pictures, use stamps and even paint.
Evergreen. Although we don’t buy an evergreen Christmas tree (that’s a long story I can tell you over coffee someday), we do bring elements of greenery into our home with a swag on the mantle and wreath on the door.
Fireplace. It’s a shame every home isn’t built with a chimney. Don’t fret if your home doesn’t have one, candles lit on a cold winter night still create that sense of sparkle and warmth.
Gingerbread Houses. Lord help us, we try each year. The architectural drafts are precise and the baking of the building material promising. But alas, despite our grand efforts, our gingerbread houses resemble gingerbread earthquake survivors. It’s become an endearing part of our holiday ritual.
Handmade Gifts. There are so many great websites, hobby stores and books available that making a gift to give has become incredibly easy, affordable and rewarding. Give it a try this year.
Ives. Burl Ives. Christmas music started in October this year at our house when the kids exclaimed they wanted the Burl Ives station on Pandora for our dinner music.
Jars of Cordial. Speaking of handmade gifts, homemade cordial (which was previously featured in this column with a how-to recipe) is a great gift that needs no wrapping.
Keepsake Journal. Years ago, I bought a Christmas keepsake journal, and each year, I fill out the guided sections it lays out. Holiday visits and visitors, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Christmas Dinner, Special Gifts and Things to remember are what I record.
Linen. Some homes have red and green, others gold or silver. We use yards of natural linen and touches of Irish and Scottish plaid.
Marshmallows. My 9-year-old son is founder and CEO of The Marshmallows Company here in town. When the weather turns cold, the orders come in at an astounding rate, and we are up to our ears in deliciously sweet marshmallow fluff throughout the winter months.
Neighbors. Christmastime is a perfect excuse to reach out, extend a warm hello, drop off a holiday card and even a gift of cookies to the neighbors around you. We have several elderly neighbors that beam from ear to ear when our three boys arrive at their door with warm cookies.
Open House. We can’t wait to pile in the car and head out to a few holiday events around town. One of our favorites is the Coffee Times/Street Scene Open House in early December. I’d encourage you to find a few festivities to put on your rotating holiday schedule.
Photographs. Don’t forget, photographs are an important part of memory making, not just for us and our children, but for generations to come.
Quilts. You can’t take two steps into our home without seeing a quilt, and each has a story to tell. As I sit here typing in my studio, I have two nearby and one across my lap to keep me warm. I love how the older and more tattered they become, their warmth and comfort grow.
Record Player. Last Christmas, our son asked for a record player. He counts Frank Sinatra as his favorite singer, so this gift request did not surprise us in the least. The record player has become a treasured part of our home and this year we’ve been scouring the local thrift stores for some great holiday records.
Snowflakes. Paper cut-out snowflakes are a Christmas decorating must. Kids undoubtedly gravitate to a project where they can make a huge mess by cutting hundreds of tiny diamond shapes with scissors. It’s such a simple idea but it adds just a little extra boost of childhood whimsy and wonder to the standard holiday décor.
Turkey & Wild Rice Soup. When I asked my son what words he thinks of when he thinks about Christmas, he said, “turkey and wild rice soup.” The recipe was one that just came together one snowy night a few years back and has now become the most requested meal around the table this time of year.
Upside Down Cake. Around the holidays, an upside down cake baked in a deep cast iron skillet is usually the dessert of choice at the end of a cold day. It’s such a cinch to pull together, bakes incredibly fast, and should (I highly recommend) be eaten warm with a dollop of whipped cream.
Village Scenes. I am a sucker for those ceramic village scenes. Thankfully, I think the wave of popularity passed back in the mid-’90s so I have a plethora of choices at yard sales, thrift store and rummage sales throughout the year.
Winter Walks. It’s easy to get out and take a stroll on a sunny, 75-degree day. On a gray-skied, 28-degree day with slushy brown sidewalks, it’s a little less appealing. Nonetheless, we bundle up and take in the neighborhood Christmas decor.
Xmas Tree (fake). Yes, with all of the handmade hullaballoo I prescribe to, we climb up into our garage rafters and pull down the old boxed Christmas tree year after year.
Yorkshire Pudding. On Christmas afternoon, I enjoy cooking a memorable meal. A couple of years ago, I made a traditional English dinner, complete with Yorkshire pudding.
Zest. My husband and I lived in Florida for a few years prior to having children and one of my favorite things about winter in Florida was the abundance of citrus. Now, here in the Bluegrass, we still eat and use citrus, especially around the holidays. Each morning I put orange segments in a saucepan with water and a dash of cinnamon and turn the stove burner on low. The smell that permeates the house is undoubtedly the smell of Christmas.