Christmas Book Countdown
With much bigger boys, this will be the first December in many years that we don't count down the days to Christmas by unwrapping and reading a holiday book (or two or three) each evening before bed. But for all the years it lasted, the Christmas Book Countdown was one of our favorite traditions. (This post tells gives the low-down on the tradition and also includes links to the creation of the book crate and some of our seasonal favorite reads).
Setting off into the woods to search for and cut the perfect tree is one of my favorite parts of the holiday. We've gotten a tree out of the woods near our house every year since M was a baby and I've been documenting those tree hunts here since 2009. That year, I shared some history on that tradition. Some years we collected our tree from snowless woods. Then there was the year we came home from picking out a tree from the woods and decided to instead use the tree that had fallen down in our front yard months earlier. Some years, we've had to squeeze getting the tree in between all the other things we have going on; make that many years. And last year, the year we got our 16th tree off this land, I revisited some of those past tree-gettings.
Making—and eating—cookies is, of course, a favorite tradition of everyone around here. I've honed cookie-making to a science, mixing all the dough in one mega-mixing session, and putting it in the fridge or freezer for later cutting. This saves me from having to wash all of the measuring and mixing implements more than once. To avoid contamination, I start with the white dough of sugar cookies, followed by light brown Spekulatius, and finish with the much darker chocolate gingerbread. Sometimes I add other cookies into the mix, like two kinds of shortbread I tried last year. Different candies make appearances now and then, including the perennial and always improving peppermint bark,
My favorite part of the Christmas season is not Christmas at all, but the other holidays we celebrate in a small way in the weeks leading up. These are low-stress, high reward events, completely divorced from wantiness, greed, and unrealistic expectations.
On December 6, we celebrate St. Nikolaus Day, with a few treats placed in shoes left out the night before: an ornament for the tree, a chocolate, and a clementine. On or around December 13, we celebrate St. Lucia Day with saffron buns.
Sometime during the eight days of Hanukkah, we get together with friends for latkes, applesauce, a few rounds of dreidel, and our traditional Yule log menorah. A few days ago, M said "Did you know most Christian families don't celebrate Hanukkah?" It was a funny statement, but also a perfectly reasonable thing to be surprised by for a kid growing up in an atheist-but-open-minded-and-slightly-pagan household. We don't mind coopting religious celebrations that aren't our own, especially if they involve really good food. And I'd rather have a latke with sour cream than turkey or ham (or whatever the traditional American Christmas dinner is these days) any day.
For the solstice, we decorate our front yard spruce tree with yummy treats for the birds and, weather permitting, go out for a nighttime trek to the river, where we build a small fire and enjoy being outside at night in winter—a rare event.
Twelve Days of Christmas
Several years ago, I started combatting the day-after-Christmas letdown by keeping the festivities going for twelve more days. Our celebrations are simple: A Twelve Days of Christmas calendar (kind of the anti-Advent calendar); a ring of twelve candles which we light each night while we sing a holiday carol or two, removing one candle each night as we count down to twelve; and one final gift dropped in shoes placed by the fire on the last night of Christmas.
After all that celebrating (not to mention actual Christmas, which involves a lot of contortions with C's extended family plus long-distance Christmasing with my family in Colorado), we are usually ready to settle into a long, quiet winter.