And now, the best of the rest of The Symmetric in 2013! You can see the first part of our year-end post recap here. Gillian will be back in the (virtual) house next week and we’ll get down to some really. serious. business. By which I mean, probably not actually very serious at all.
[UPDATED: The Symmetric reconfigured some of our category titles in 2014, so the following three don’t exist as such anymore – but all the posts still do and have just been recategorized under different headings! S.]
I love this category. It’s the catch-all, really. I took a trip to Nashville with my girlfriends (part 1 and 2), went to Maine with my family (part 1, 2, and 3), reminisced about Chris and I traveling in Iceland, and dreamed about staying in one of these weird abodes.
Hi, it’s me again. Merry Christmas for real this time! We’ve got a couple more lovely ladies who wanted to share their holiday traditions today (part 1 was yesterday, in case you missed it). I realized I should also contribute some thoughts, so, without further ado…
Shanan, who runs this site with Gillian, is currently guzzling Prosecco and eating all of Santa’s cookies, and feels weird referring to herself in the third person.
“My family has, to me, anyway, never seemed very locked in to the tried and true, the hard and fast, or the absolute when it comes to the holidays and tradition. The concept of the Christmas dinner (ie. that it occurs and that we should all show up) has been sacred but beyond that, all the little details are fair game. Some years my mother cooks a turkey, some years it’s lamb, and dessert is rarely bothered with unless I decide to make something. Sometimes we feel like dressing up, and sometimes we don’t. In the past there’s been a rotating cast of characters in attendance; friends whose own families weren’t close by, random people stopping in for an after-dinner drink (lifetime achievement shout-outs to Philly and Zeena), and every few years a visit from an anti-social uncle which inevitably ends in swearing and stomping around and talk by my grandmother of being written out of the will (!).
But. There is one thing that absolutely MUST grace the dinner table, and that is the humble Christmas cracker. These are the cardboard tubes wrapped in decorative paper, with prizes and a joke and a paper crown inside, and two people pull the snapper thing to make it crack open, for anyone in the States who may not know what I’m referring to. So full of promise, those crackers.
My mother always buys them for her guests and damn if I don’t love her for it. We always groan at the terrible puns. We always trade weird tiny picture frames for mini toolkits for ugly keychains. We always end up with a table strewn with foil and torn tissue paper and spilled wine. Over the years I’ve occasionally made my own, where the prizes are personalized, the jokes are really dirty, and I’ve managed to stuff Lindt chocolate truffles inside. Either way, the crackers make up a little ritual for us that mark a special Christmastime meal. Oh but ps, you’re out of the will.”
Allison Burt-Tilden, quirky and engaging tastemaker from Portlandia whose blog Votre Grande Soeur promises great things in store for 2014 (do check it out!), and who has been a vocal and incredibly sweet supporter of The Symmetric.
“For a self-professed Scrooge, I actually have a few traditions I observe without fail, such as watching Black Christmas (the original) while putting up my holiday decorations and giving myself a super glittery green mani. Overall, the tradition that stood out the most for me though is making sugar cookies.
For at least as long as we’ve lived in our current home (about 6 years), I spend what often turns out to be nearly an entire weekend making sugar cookies. I’m not really sure why, either. My husband doesn’t care for them at all and I barely do and yet, there I am pretty much without fail mixing up a big batch of sugar cookie dough each and every year. In my memory it always seems so much easier than it ever turns out to be, the past twelve months having done away with my ability to recall just what is really involved. For starters, dough and I do not get along. I am an absolute failure when it comes to pie crusts and I gave up on homemade pizzas a long time ago. So there I am this last Friday evening thinking, ‘Oh I’ll just make up a batch of sugar cookies, easy peasy!’ Wrong.
After lots of swearing and frustration, I finally had two lumps of dough rolled out flat between sheets of waxed paper, chilling in the fridge. This is where I should have come back after the prescribed thirty minute chill time to cut out and bake my cookies. I decided to do it the next morning. Except I had errands to run, so I didn’t get them cut out and baked (another hour long ordeal in itself) until the next afternoon. After baking and cooling, I mixed up some homemade Meyer lemon icing and again, having forgotten my methods since last year, I began to clumsily spread icing onto my cookies with a knife. Not so pretty. (Note to self: this is why you got those squeeze bottles, remember??) I also forgot that I have three cooling racks that enable me to spread cookies out on a large surface so the icing can set properly. Instead, I filled up a plate with sloppily iced cookies and simply gave up.
The result is a scant handful of iced cookies (including that janky attempt to make an eye) and a gazillion more with sprinkles wantonly tossed on top for the laziest of good measures. I haven’t even mentioned that my goal this year was to craft moon-phase cookies complete with crescent, gibbous and full moons, all lovingly iced to appear deliciously lunar-like. Yeah – Le sigh! And yet, for some crazy reason, I can say without a doubt that I’ll be back at it this time next year.”
Shannon Barnes, who manages to live like a superhero – kick-ass television commercial producer (she was recently profiled in Toronto Life as a “power wife!”) by day, ridiculously loving mom by night, and effortlessly straddles the mean streets of Toronto and the wilds of rural BC.
“I am a sucker for Christmas. I hear Christmas songs and my eyes well up. Not kidding.
The first Christmas that came after we built our house [out west] we decided that we would stay at home and celebrate Christmas together. I dreaded the thought of not being with my family and not waking up at my parents’ with my stocking so stuffed that it would take an hour to get through.
BUT, it changed. I held onto everything that my parents had shared over the years with me, and started to pass it all down, just in a different place. The note to Santa, the cookies, the milk, and the carrots for Rudolph all were placed under the tree on the night of the 24th. Stockings were stuffed and when the actual day arrived, it all just felt good.
I make the turkey dinner the exact same way my mom did, only adding stinky brussels into the mix.
My family and I share indoor and outdoor time on Christmas Day and of course Skype with both our families back east. We have created a new tradition in the sense that it is elsewhere, but it is all based on the traditions I grew up with.
Six years later, I still miss our families, but I love the fact that we have created this.”
Merry Christmas Eve, everyone! Hope you’re having a fantastic and somewhat relaxing day (is that possible the day before Christmas? I’d like to think so).
As Theo grows and grows and begins to understand and anticipate the holiday, it’s made me start to reflect more on the traditions I grew up with… and give some thought to new ones we’d like to create as I forge ahead with my own little family. It all gets me a bit misty-eyed, frankly, but I’ll try and hold the tears at bay at least until New Year’s (auld lang syne, b*tches) and remain in the the present. Wrapping final gifts, preparing doughnut batter, and taking a snowshoe hike.
I’ve rounded up a few friends from near and far to tell you a little about their holiday traditions, so let’s give them a warm welcome! I’ll be breaking these posts up into two parts; stay tuned for the second batch tomorrow. On Christmas day. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
Natalia Zubko,Shanan’s dear friend from her days at Parsons, who somehow still manages to surprise with her wisdom and thoughtfulness, and makes amazing installation art from her studio in Brooklyn, NY.
“Tradition in the Zubko household on Christmas morning was open stockings, then have breakfast… and it was always Dutch Babies (for her “Dutch Babies,” as my mom often referred to my dad, whose mother was Dutch, and us, her kids).
A simple mix of 4 ingredients: very blended eggs, slowly-added flour & milk, all poured into an oven-safe dish of melted butter. The magic comes in the way the Dutch Babies puff up – not like a pop-over but up around the sides. My mother would worry if she tried a new pan and they didn’t puff properly. The square glass pyrex seemed to be the favored dish.
Served to a simply set table – my Dutch grandmother Oma’s china, off-white and gold-rimmed with little flowers, and a big pot of earl grey or coffee out of a matching teapot in our dining room overlooking the snow-covered evergreens on the mountain.
Dutch Babies are really the perfect base for any topping – sweet or savoury. Or, as the Zubko tradition goes – strawberries with powdered sugar, maple syrup with powdered sugar, or lemon with powdered sugar – I think you see a common denominator!
Christmas morning isn’t the same without this breakfast. Even on holidays that I am not with the family (like this year), I make these Dutch Babies.”
Gabriela Dale, who married one of my closest friends on a hilltop in Switzerland last February, is fearless in the face of pitch-black mountain sledding and can drink all the other girls under the table.
“Every year in Switzerland an average of one thousand house-fires occur over the Christmas season. The problem stems from the Swiss people’s love for the tradition of decorating their trees with real candles — and I’m one of those people.
My husband (a Canadian) finds the idea of real candles on a Christmas tree – in a house – really dangerous. My opinion: A Christmas tree deserves real candles. Discussions on this topic are a yearly occurrence. Cultural difference, I guess, but no matter – I always win this debate.
Swiss Christmas traditions are generally quite different from the ones in North America. For example: Trees are often purchased on Christmas Eve and decorated the afternoon of. While the kids are out to see a play or a movie, parents secretly decorate the tree and bring out the gifts – with the children believing it all to be the work of a little angel named Christkind.
But, back to our tree. We’ve had ours for four years now. Rather than get a new one each year, we’ve planted ours in a big pot on our patio – and every Christmas Eve, we drag it inside and I pretty it up.
This year, however, I’ve decided that our Christmas tree will be for the birds – literally. I’m leaving the tree outside and will decorate it with homemade birdfeeders made of pinecones covered in coconut-fat and dipped in birdseed.
Merry Christmas birds! Just don’t get too close to my candles.”
Gillian Sopinka, my Symmetric partner-in-crime who keeps me in stitches, swears like a sailor and rescues me from boredom every single day.
“My family is heavily into tradition. If you do something once that people are on board with, you had better be prepared to do it for the rest of your life. Seriously.
My grandparents, who are now both 88 and live in a nursing home, hosted wonderful Christmas celebrations for our family for decades in their home. I have vivid memories of all of it: the smell of my Grandma’s hand-baked shortbread (they were perfect), the silver and blue tree (her favourite carol is Silver Bells), the way the snow and stars seemed to dance across the frozen lake in their backyard, the thought and care with which my Grandma prepared each meal, each gift and stocking, my Grandpa coming home late Christmas Eve from the hospital where he worked and encouraging me to leave Santa a hefty drink (and by the way, if you didn’t know, Santa drinks rum and coke).
The first year my grandparents weren’t well enough to host Christmas, Steve and I had just moved to North Bay and bought our first house. We could DO IT, I valiantly volunteered. I really had no idea what I was signing up for, and how impossible it would be to fill my Grandma’s tiny (big) shoes. A few tears (do people actually know it takes like 2 days to thaw a turkey – wtf!?!) and generous highballs later, I think we pulled it off (that’s Gillian’s first turkey, way up top!). But by the skin of our teeth, and with some serious omissions. There were no delicately broiled grapefruits at brunch, the champagne was not Mumm’s, the gravy required Bovril, I forgot the After Eights…But, perhaps most notably I wasn’t gracefully materializing in immaculate outfits with beautifully paired jewelry to serve & entertain effortlessly. In fact, I was lucky to hide glorified track pants under my apron.
That was six years ago. I’d like to think I’ve grown into the Christmas Hostess role. I plan ahead. Make a lot of lists. And I don’t try to “do it all” (sorry, I hate the modern woman’s cliché too, but in this case it applies!). I’ve narrowed down the traditions. Shrimp ring and tourtière on Christmas Eve have survived the belt-tightening (paired with cheese fondue – a Sopinka family tradition). We still attend a candle-light church service on Christmas Eve, and each open a gift. The gift is always a pair of new pajamas so we (in my Grandma’s words) will be “spiffy for Santa.” And when we toast each other with mimosas on Christmas Day – I drink to Bette and Roy – the real deal Christmas hosts.”
So much for holding back those tears… Sniff. Okay, see you tomorrow yeah?
We’re chillin’ like villains here, wrapping presents, watching Frosty and enjoying the Hollywood-esque snow falling outside. There was a massive ice-storm in Toronto this weekend and the power is out all over the city, so we’re thankful to be out of the melée and dug in at home up north. The Symmetric will be posting through Christmas and New Year’s, would you please join us?
Be safe out there. Ho ho ho and much love to you all. xx Shanan
Photos (and homemade wrapping paper!) by The Symmetric.