As the holidays approach, I reflect on the many traditions I remember when I was growing up – my mother making home-made pie crusts and filling them with pumpkin and chocolate fillings, the fragrant smells in our kitchen, family members coming over to our home or us going to their homes to enjoy food and fellowship. As always, the women were in the kitchen finalizing dinner preparations, talking, and setting the table while the men were in the living room watching sports or the news. I have fond memories of my nephew, Jason, our cousins, Bobby and Gina and myself always wrestling about while our parents insisted we calm down and “lower the noise level.” Gina and I would retreat to her room to play with dolls or other “quiet” games while the boys proceeded to instigate trouble by teasing us, pulling hair, or hiding toys. My nephew, Jason, was very young at the time, so he would run about ripping through the presents and being a curious toddler, getting into things he shouldn’t while running happily about.
Many changes have occurred since those times growing up. Many of our family members have either moved away or passed on, leaving a fraction of us here to celebrate the holidays together. I now have my own children and strive to have the same type of holidays that I remember so vividly when my mother was still alive and the balance of our relatives still lived locally. Those warm, wonderful, childhood memories are still very evident to me as I recall those fun times that took place so many years ago. My mother has truly left a legacy and I have been able to continue those traditions and expand on mom’s efforts to make the holidays a warm, memorable time for our family.
As a young child, I remember how hard it was for me to wait for our family members to arrive so we could eat that savory dinner that had been cooking all day! Turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, breads, pies, cranberry sauce, and of course, sweet potatoes. The wonderful smells of a traditional holiday feast are priceless and something I enjoy very much now that I have my own home and family. I have always enjoyed cooking and being a homebody. It is such a joy to see the delight in my children’s eyes as we prepare for the holidays and enjoying time together with our family.
We decorate our house for the season – for Thanksgiving, I use autumn decorations – fall leaves, pumpkins, our outdoor scarecrow (suitable for both Halloween and Thanksgiving!!), and for Christmas, the entire array of tree décor, stockings, and table decorations. When my daughters were born, I began collecting an ornament for each of us every year. We place all the ornaments on the tree every year, but the nice thing about both Christina and Heather’s collections are that when they have their own families and their own homes to decorate, they can take their personal holiday ornament collections with them to decorate their trees. They will have a lifetime remembrance of the holidays encompassing all the years that they were growing up – from birth to present. I also purchase an ornament each year for my own collection so I can also have a remembrance of all the years we shared together during their childhood. I also love to fill the house with potpourri and scented candles to fit the season – pumpkin pie, cinnamon, spice, and bayberry are among my holiday favorites. I love to take vacation time during the holidays and just stay at home preparing for our family gatherings. For us, “the big dinner” usually consists of a spiral honey-baked ham with my special glaze, golden-baked turkey, harvest stuffing with sage sausage, fresh snapped green beans with bacon and almonds simmered in vegetable broth, buttery whipped potatoes, fresh cranberry sauce with mandarin oranges, fresh dinner rolls, an array of sparkling ciders, and for dessert, creamy pumpkin and chocolate pies with whipped cream.
The girls are old enough now to help me in the kitchen. We have the most wonderful time together. The night before “The Big Dinner”, the girls and I start by washing and snapping the green beans. The beans are then soaked in vegetable broth overnight to infuse them with flavor. I also bake my pies the evening before, if possible. I don’t make home-made pie crusts like mom used to, but the Pillsbury pie crusts won mom’s blessing, so I use those because they are simple to use. Instead of using regular refined sugar, I use Eagle Brand condensed milk which is very sweet and provides a smooth consistency to my pies. I also make fresh cranberry sauce the night before. I have my own recipe that I’ve perfected over the years that includes fresh cranberries and mandarin oranges. I add jellied cranberry sauce for consistency and a dash of sugar to take away the tartness of the cranberries. My oldest daughter loves my cranberry sauce so much that she eats it right out of the dish. She can hardly wait for dinner – in fact, sometimes, she will sneak and eat some before dinner time! I always make extra just for her!
Once the beans, cranberry sauce, and pies are complete, we are ready to rest. When the next morning comes, I am typically awake very early (this is not unusual for me at all since I am an early riser). I like to get started with small, but tedious details including peeling and chopping potatoes, cooking sausage for the stuffing and bacon for the green beans, and preparing the ham glaze. Once these details are complete, I start prepping the ham and the turkey since they both need to cook for a good portion of the day. While the meats are cooking, I start to prepare the harvest stuffing – my daughters and I concocted this recipe last year and fell in love with it. When the meats are nearly finished, I cook the potatoes and green beans and finish up last minute details. By this time, it is nearly time for us to either head over to my sister’s house or welcome guests to our home, depending on whose turn it is to host the dinner. After cooking all day and inhaling those wonderful smells, dinner is an awesome experience, incorporating great food and the blessing of having family and friends close by to share the holiday.
I continue to miss having my mom with us, as I know the rest of my family does as well. She was a very special lady whom we all dearly loved, but her spirit is still very much with us, especially during the holiday season. I believe her most important lesson to us and to others is to value the time with your family and those closest to you, regardless of time of year or place. The true meaning of the holidays is tradition, close friends, and above all, quality time spent with your family and close friends.
This year is a very special time for my family. We recently moved to a new home and are looking forward to hosting dinner at our house. My nephew, Jason, recently moved back to California after being in Florida for the last few years. As my nephew said, it is a special time and new chapters are evolving in our lives. As you reflect on the holidays and share time with your loved ones, make the most of this special time together and share holiday traditions and begin new chapters in your lives. May you enjoy this holiday season!