Sunday, December 30, 2012

Check out our best Christmas traditions - cookies, gumdrops, Michael Bolton and more!

My family and I are very particular and protective of our Christmas traditions and we love talking about them - with each other and anyone else who is foolish enough willing to listen.  Isn't it fun and funny how families have their own special things that they do at Christmastime and no matter what they may be, they hold them dear and think they're the best traditions in the universe? Well, our family actually does have the best tradition in the universe.  (skip to the end if you can't wait to hear about it!)  

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, a local radio station that plays a very unfortunate and uninspired variety of Christmas music 24 hours a day, was hosting a call-in thing where people would call in to leave a recorded message of their favorite Christmas traditions.  They were later played over and over at random times. (Warning: In the next few sentences I'm going to turn kind of mean and sarcastic and grumpy.)  People were calling in and leaving messages saying things like (and I am NOT making this up), "We wake up and open the presents under the tree," and "We have dinner as a family."  And I thought out loud, "REALLY??????  Those are your favorite traditions????  Those practically don't even count as traditions because that happens to be what everyone else on the planet who is celebrating Christmas is doing."  Well, I guess they may be considered traditions, but they hardly seem unique enough to merit calling in to a radio station and subjecting the listening public to the musings of Captain and Mrs. Obvious. (Ok, mean and sarcastic rant is over.  I'm actually not that mean-spirited or close-minded. I know there are plenty of people who must celebrate Christmas without gifts or away from family, and it's actually terribly sad that a family dinner might be so rare for some that it is a noteworthy once-a-year event.  For those in these and other unfortunate circumstances, especially at this time of the year, I offer my prayers.)  

But, if I may, here are two of our family's major Christmas traditions that are unique enough to merit a few paragraphs and photos here :)  I will stick with only the best two, and will not bore any reader kind enough to still be reading this with our minor traditions like * we listen to the live broadcast of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, England Christmas Eve morning to hear the boy treble that opens with "Once in Royal David's City" and tear up at his performance (woah... that was a run-on tradition) * we watch A Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Even night * we eat pizza casserole before watching the movie * we get scotch tape in our stockings every year * an ornament with a sexy windswept headshot of Michael Bolton holds a place of honor on my parents' Christmas tree * and this year we determined that it's tradition for my mom to say, "There aren't going to be many presents this year," and everyone looks at her with crazy eyes because somehow every year gifts are piled up anyway *  So, you don't have to sit through all that.  Here are our really unique traditions...

The Cookie Tree

No explanation, necessary; photos will suffice.  (Except, know that I was making this thing when I was a kid, and so it's super awesome to have my own kids helping out now!  My mom has been tasked with finding a cookie tree photo from my childhood... I'll edit one in if something surfaces.  I remember posing for them... now just to locate...)

Cookie trees from 2010 and 2011

and, drum roll please...
Christmas Snack Table

The best tradition ever invented is called Christmas Snack Table, and it's so old, it's hard to remember how it all started.  There is a home video of the very first one (I think I was about 12), which was actually held the day after Christmas.  I don't think anyone knows how it came to be held on Christmas Day, but I think it has something to do with not wanting to make and eat a repeat of Thanksgiving dinner one month later.  I really have no idea of the why.  It doesn't matter.  It's the what that's important.

Christmas Snack Table is an all-day buffet of the best party food - the kind that you've been waiting all year to eat.  The planning begins weeks before Christmas.  Deciding what will be on the snack table is fairly easy for us now - there are a lot of dishes that make an annual appearance, and everyone who will be "home" for Christmas is allowed one specific food request.  We divide up shopping and prep responsibilities.  This year, to save time, we did a lot of the prep the few days before Christmas.  The rest of the work is done on Christmas morning... and Christmas morning pretty much goes the same with my "new" family as it did with my "old" family growing up.  Get up.  Go to early Mass.  Come home, drink coffee and open stockings.  Prepare Christmas Snack Table - everyone is involved.  (That's part of the fun!  It's really a family-prepared feast!)  Say prayers and sing Christmas carols, bless the food.  Fill your plate, and eat all day!  In our family, we open our gifts one at a time and intentionally draw it out all day.  So frequently, someone will declare it's time for a gift break and another round of Snack Table.  Gift opening lasts well into the afternoon and Snack Table goes on all day.  For many years, it's lasted into the evening providing the adults much needed nourishment for intense games of SPOONS and Taboo.

The reasons to have your own Christmas Snack Table are many.  The best I can think of are these:  It's fun holiday bonding to have the whole family involved in making a huge buffet early in the day and being able to enjoy it all day long (as opposed to two or three people tucked away in the kitchen all afternoon to make a big holiday meal while everyone else is still celebrating and socializing.  We just did that at Thanksgiving, so no need to repeat!)  It can be as casual or elegant as you like (or a tacky mix of both, which is where ours usually ends up - think gourmet stuffed mushrooms and potato chips and dip on the same table.)  There's something for everyone.  And it's just. plain. fun.  A totally unique way to celebrate an already fun and festive time of year!

As with the cookie tree, I'm trying to locate pictures of some Snack Tables of yore.  But here are a couple from this year (the pictures pretty much look the same from year to year ) followed by the 2012 menu to jump start your own planning for next year.  'Cause you know this is awesome and you're seriously thinking about trying it!

Merry Christmas!

Nearly my whole immediate family was in town this year, so the menu was extensive.  Yum!

The Basics:

potato chips, dip
veggies, dip
fruit, dip
(there are a lot of dips involved in Christmas Snack Table)
cheese, crackers, sausage, cheese spreads
red and green gumdrops (a tradition)
shrimp and cocktail sauce (don't leave this sitting out all day!)

The Stuff we Made:

layered taco dip and Frito chips
hot chicken wing dip and tortilla chips
spinach dip, bread bowl
bacon tomato cups
deviled eggs
pigs in a blanket (a tradition...)
salami with cream cheese roll-ups (also tradition)
spinach tortilla wrap pinwheels
brie with cranberry almond sauce, baked in a pastry
cocktail meatballs
raspberry and lemon curd tarts (it's so nice delicious to have a pastry-chef sister!)
the cookie tree
chocolate covered pretzels rods
candied pecans

beer, wine, juice 

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