The word Tradition comes from the latin root traditio which mean “handing over or passing on. It was a great song from Fiddler on the Roof. But when it comes to the holidays most of us have many traditions that make the season what it is, whether there are old ones or new ones that we have created over the years. These traditions give us comfort and bring us together and help us to carry on our cultures.
Being the first generation American of Welsh parents many of our traditions are British. Though after attending a Jewish preschool, Talmud Torah at the Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, we added lighting of the Menorah for several years too, though we no longer do that.
One of the traditions started when we were children still continues today, the Christmas Nightie. Yes, my sisters and I all used to get matching nightgowns for Christmas, and now to this day, we get matching pajamas, and it has expanded to include my mother, my sister’s husband & kids, and my other sister’s boyfriend. If we were all in a room together and had a picture taken it would be quite a sight! The only rule is no flannels, too cliche’. I think the most funny was the year we got gold lame’ & black ones, hysterical. Sorry, not posting a picture though.
We decorate our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. All the ornaments collected over the 41 years my mother has been in this country come out of the boxes, including the ones each of us get from Santa in our stockings each year, come out and are placed on the tree. No more room for plain ornaments on the tree. Along with those are the few antique ornaments my mother brought with her from Britain as well as the ones we have made over the year, well the ones that have survived a few basement floods, and cats and dogs toppling the trees. It is quite a collection and the reminicing is always fun when each ornament is hung.
When we were children we used to put out a plate of cookies & milk for Santa Claus and sit by the fire to read Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” before bed (wearing our Christmas nighties). Alas, with no more children in the house here, that tradition is no longer observed. More likely than not I am usually still up wrapping presents until the wee hours instead.
Christmas Morning it was always my little sister that woke everyone up first and we opened stockings first, which of course always had a tangerine in the toe. The orange in the toe of a stocking is a universal tradition that symbolizes the gold left by St. Nicholas in the toes of the stockings of three girls that either saved them from slavery or gave them a dowry so they could be married, depending on which story you read. The other must for our stockings is a Toblerone. All of our stockings are handmade by my mother, petitepoint with our names on them, backed in red velvet. They are hung on the mantlepiece and look so wonderful there.
Still wearing our Christmas nighties we then open presents, each of us with our own position in front of the tree that we have held for at least 20 years and we take turns opening the gifts from under the tree. With the roaring fire next to us it is a fantastic tradition as we look out the picture window and watch the neighborhood awaken. Across the street we even get to vicariously watch our neighbors partake in their annual Christmas pinata tradition on the tree outside. After cleaning up any bags and wrapping paper it is time for the Christmas puzzle and breakfast!
Because the greatest traditions of holiday time involve food, our family is no different. When we are decorating the tree on Christmas Eve we have a lovely steak dinner. It wouldn’t be Christmas Morning without soft-boiled eggs and soldiers, which for the uninitiated, is toast cut into strips to dip into the gooey egg, and bacon, sauteed mushrooms and fried tomatoes.
For Christmas Day we now go to our family friend’s house for dinner surrounded by all their children grandchildren. They have three boys, we have three girls so it has always been a fun time to have our families get together. Now with all the extended families and seeing the kiddie table recreated with their children instead of us is very fun. And now instead of playing Atari or Simon we all are playing Wii after Christmas Dinner which includes Turkey, Green Bean Casserole and yummy pie for dessert! I usually get called in to the kitchen to help make the gravy.
Boxing Day is the big day for us (the day after Christmas for you Yanks). That is when we have our own traditional dinner that includes Bread Sauce, boiled carrots, brussel sprouts, mashed buttered parsnips, roast turkey draped with bacon for basting and stuffed with two kinds of stuffing, herb in one end and sausage in the other, roast potatoes. For dessert the Christmas Pudding of course, with brandied white sauce.
When we were younger we used to help my mother start making the puddings in September in big laundry tubs. It is quite an undertaking involving suet, lots of dried fruit and lots and lots of booze including Guinness! We would stir and stir with big wooden spoons but inevitably would give up on that and just dig in with our arms. After several days of mascerating the puddings were ready for their molds and would get steamed so they would be ready for Christmas. It is definitely an acquired taste, but the pudding contains either silver coins or silver charms, which are believed to bring prosperity in the new year, so getting a child to eat it isn’t that hard because they want to find the coins and, you can smother it in the white sauce too (made with vanilla instead of brandy for the kids). The pudding is always brought to the table with a piece of holly stuck in the middle and the pudding is ablaze in a bath of brandy. There have been a few close calls with too much brandy and burned holly, but it is usually quite a sight.
In earlier years my mother also used to make a Christmas cake, which is similar to a fruit cake, but iced in a layer of marzipan and then a layer of hard royal icing, and then a holiday or winter scene decorates the top. I still remember an elaborate skating scene on one that she made that included a mirror for the ice!
Of course no Christmas dinner or Boxing Day dinner in our house would be complete without Christmas Crackers. Not edible ones, but the ones invented by Tom Smith in the 1800s in Britain. He worked in a confectioners shop and reinvented the “bon-bon” he had seen on a trip to Paris. Inspired by the “crackling & pop” of the sound logs make in the fireplace he created the cracker, which is a tube that usually contains a riddle or joke, a toy of some kind, and of course, the paper crown, and when you pull the ends to open them, they “POP”. All of the photos of our Christmas & Boxing Day dinners growing up show us around the table wearing the paper crowns.
Boxing Day is a big holiday in Britain. The day is usually the day the Alms boxes were opened, hence the name, but also because the aristocracy gave gifts to the less fortunate in a Christmas Box. Because servants and workers did not have Christmas day off Boxing Day became the day they were allowed to celebrate and party, so it is very much “the people’s” holiday.
So between decorating the tree, Christmas nighties, the Christmas puzzle, soft-boiled eggs & soldiers, bread sauce, Christmas pudding, and Christmas Crackers, we have so many wonderful traditions that are continued to this day that were started as a child and I am sure will be continued as long as we celebrate the holiday together.
Wishing everyone a wonderful season of sharing their favorite traditions.