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?