Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Traditions

Happy Monday, belated! I apologize for missing my normal Monday deadline. I ran up north on Black Friday, with a couple of girlfriends, to see another girlfriend for an impromptu “Friends-giving” celebration. The weather forecast was calling for only a light dusting to an inch of snow but, of course, this is Michigan; and we ended up getting snowed in, with about 6-8 inches of snow and ice and no internet. But, now, let’s get on with this week’s blog…

I’m a lover of traditions. When I look back on my childhood, so many of my favorite memories involved our family’s holiday traditions. Mom and Dad succeeded at creating a lot of very special memories for me and my siblings. That’s why, after having children of my own, I always tried to carry on those traditions. We even added a few new ones over the years that have since continued.

Every year, world-wide, hundreds of millions of people commemorate the Christmas holiday in so many different ways. Christmas celebrations, traditions, customs and beliefs are incredibly diverse in America, alone, because we‘re a big melting-pot-nation; where numerous nationalities, and traditions thereof, can come together in harmony, melding multiple old traditions into new ones.

THE CHRISTMAS FEELING is basically a simple hope for peace and good will, no matter what other trappings we’ve attached to the occasion through the years since that single star lit up the sky over Bethlehem. No matter what other customs and traditions mankind has attached to Christmas or the celebration of it, the humble wish for ‘peace on Earth, good will towards men’ remains strong among those who thrive on hope and cherish what is good… – Gloria Pitzer, Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Newsletter (Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Nov-Dec 1990, Issue #147, p. 8)

According to Holiday Traditions of the United States…, while the tradition of “feasting” during the holidays is characteristic of all nations, with only the menus being different. We get many of our current combined traditions from our diverse ancestors who immigrated here from so many different countries, bringing their customs with them.

For example, as the article (mentioned above) explains, a lot of our Christmas carols came from England and Australia, whereas the decorated evergreens are a German influence. The man in the red suit that we know as Santa Claus (aka: St. Nicholas or St. Nick), originated in Scandinavia and his arrival down the chimney to fill stockings with fruit and nuts is reminiscent of the Netherlands. Additionally, Santa’s sleigh, being drawn by reindeer, began in Switzerland; and our annual holiday parades may have been inspired by the Latin processions.

Over the years, America’s influence has fattened up Scandinavia’s red-suited “jolly old St. Nicholas” and blended all the different traditions so that he magically came down everyone’s chimney on Christmas Eve, leaving gifts and stockings filled with treats. Additionally, he arrived and departed in a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer – as in the classic holiday story, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas – then, later, a ninth reindeer, with a shiny red nose, was added.

‘If I give our children only one gift, it will be that I gave some practical sense of what is truly important at this time of year – not the gift, but the gathering of family and friends… Not the food, but the feeling of just being home… Never letting what we want be more important than what we need… Not complaining about [the] trivial… And always appreciating what we’ve already received before we can expect to receive more.’ – Gloria Pitzer, Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Newsletter (Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Nov-Dec 1990, Issue #147, p. 1)

Do you have a traditional Christmas Eve dinner and/or Christmas Day breakfast (or brunch)? As I was growing up, my family celebrated both, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For years, now, my husband and I have been hosting a Christmas Day Brunch for our families. Offering up a Christmas toast with a glass of homemade eggnog (or some kind of festive drink), is another tradition that many follow during the holiday meal gatherings.

Mom and Santa 2016

Another holiday tradition that I continued from my parents’ influence, as they did from their parents, is mailing out season’s greeting cards to all of our family and friends, along with little notes on them. However, Mom almost always made our family’s holiday greeting cards and every year they were different and special, with news and highlights about our past year and hopes for the coming year; sometimes, adding a recipe.

FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

As seen in…

Gloria Pitzer’s Christmas Card Cook Book (Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1983, p. 3)

Sending Christmas cards has always been a favorite tradition in our house. In 28 years, we only sent store-bought cards twice. Every Christmas, other than that, we made our cards. That was the one important tradition we followed – and still do…

What usually happened was that we had every good intention of confining our list to those who really were important to us [and] who we rarely saw during the rest of the year… I like to put newsy little notes inside that would bring old friends up to date with what we had been doing since we sent them our last Christmas card.

…I am one of those annoying sentimentalists who will, too, read every word of the long, newsy Christmas letters and the page-by-page accounts of how our friends have been doing since the last Christmas.

I don’t know if fewer cards are being sent at Christmas since postage became so expensive – or if we simply don’t know that many people. The tradition, however, seems to be fading…

Hanukkah – Christmas, Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

December, and all the holidays within it, was probably Mom’s favorite time of every year. ‘Tis the season of Faith, Hope and Love! ’Tis the season of sentimentalists, as well. Mom said, in the memory above, ‘I am one of those annoying sentimentalists’… I don’t find it annoying to be a sentimentalist, as Mom wrote about (above) and I never have – but, then again, I’m in that sentimentalist club too! And what’s so wrong with being a sentimentalist? I think it’s a good thing to be affected and motivated by feelings of tenderness, sadness, happiness or nostalgia!

‘Every year at this time, we put our very best wishes together with some warm & worthy thoughts, and send them off to you, wrapped in sincere affection and the dearest hopes that this coming year gives you all you expect and derive from it.’ – Gloria Pitzer, Gloria Pitzer’s Secret RecipesTM Quarterly, Winter 94/95.

American Christmas Traditions, by Robin Bickerstaff Glover, (Updated 03/20/19) lists many of the same wonderful traditions that my family has followed for decades and does so, still. Besides sending out the annual Christmas cards, as I mentioned above, I remember, as a kid, helping Dad put together our artificial Christmas tree and then decorating it with Mom after Dad put the lights on the tree. It was always a family event, hanging the ornaments, candy canes and tinsel. We know a few families who traditionally go to a tree farm on Thanksgiving weekend to pick out a real Christmas tree.

Other decorations that our family put up included Mom’s Christmas village and our empty stockings that were magically filled on Christmas morning with fruit and candy and little trinkets, while the plate of cookies and carrots that we left out for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve was always found empty on Christmas morning. A new tradition I want to start for my family is giving everyone a new ornament in their stocking each year.

A lot of my favorite Christmas decorations are simple, homemade items. Including my tree. I’ve always loved being kind of crafty, because I’ve never had a lot of money to spend on beautiful, store-bought decorations. Often, I’ve made my own wreaths and garland out of natural items from my backyard evergreens. I made my own artificial tree out of a large tomato cage and faux pine garland, with real pine cones, a string of lights and my ornament collection. When I don’t have ideas of my own, like the tree, Pinterest is one of my “go-to” sources for fresh ideas on decorations to make, myself. I also love walking through all the craft fairs for more ideas.

Initially inspired by Mom’s Christmas village, I started collecting my own village pieces over 30 years ago, when I was selling Home Interiors & Gifts. I’ve been collecting pieces from many different manufacturers, since then, and I love putting it all together every year – I’ve never set it up the same way twice, as I usually add a new building each year, along with a few new figurines and accessories. The village has grown quite large over the past 3 decades, with all the different styles, sizes and manufacturers. I need to trim it down to, at least, the styles and sizes that are most alike. I feel a yard sale is going to be necessary next spring!

As a child, growing up, and as an adult, with my own family, there were always many kinds of Christmas treats to make during the holidays such as cookies, fudge and a candy-covered gingerbread house, to name a few. I always loved helping to decorate the sugar cookies and gingerbread houses that Mom made every year, with all the different candies and frosting! My kids enjoyed that too and, now, my daughter, Tara, enjoys making holiday cookies and other treats with her son.

Photo by Gloria Pitzer (me and my Xmas Candy House)

Along with decorating the house for the eyes to enjoy, traditional Christmas songs were usually playing on the stereo to please the ears. In addition, Mom always had scents for the nose to enjoy as well. When she wasn’t cooking or baking, Mom often had a simmering pot of homemade potpourri on the stove to give off all the scents of the season.

To make sure your house smells like Christmas, follow this tip I love from DaringToLiveFully.com at https://daringtolivefully.com/christmas-traditions: “Place 4 to 6 cups of water in a pot on the stove. Add orange peels (from 1 or 2 oranges), 3 to 4 cinnamon sticks, 1 tablespoon of whole cloves and 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. If you want to get fancy you can add cranberries and some ginger. Bring the contents to a boil and then reduce the heat so it is left to simmer.” I enjoy it because it’s very much like Mom’s homemade potpourri.

We usually attended at least one Christmas party a year that was geared towards the whole family, with great food, eggnog and punch. While the adults socialized, the kids would get to do some holiday crafts, sing Christmas carols, listen to someone read the classic story, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, see Santa Claus and receive a special gift – early! We also drove through town, in the evening, to see all of the beautiful light displays. I think I enjoyed the Christmas parties and driving through town to see all the Christmas lights as much as a child as I did as a parent, taking my own children.

Photo by Gloria Pitzer

I followed a lot of the same traditions with my kids, when they were growing up, that my parents did with me and my siblings, plus some! Another tradition I enjoyed as much as a child as I did as a parent was when we’d eat popcorn and watch the old classic, holiday movies like “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street”; plus, the newer classics (with my own kids) like “Home Alone,” “The Santa Clause” and “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”. We also would string some of that popcorn to hang on the Christmas tree like garland.

Shopping is known to be a tradition for many people, but not one we really followed. A lot of families will spend their entire Thanksgiving holiday, camping out at some toy or electronic-type store to get the BIG Black Friday deals. Although, many see it as their family tradition, others believe that the holiday season has become too commercialized. The original, unselfish tradition of just GIVING has seemingly disappeared.

Nevertheless, we always hear about the many wonderful stories of “Secret Santas”, who paid-off peoples’ layaway-purchases or paid for someone else’s meal, while in line at a fast food place. Other stories often tell of someone, at a sit-down-style restaurant, having given their waiter/waitress a really big tip for the holidays. Start the ball rolling on a “Pay-It-Forward” chain, yourself, and help spread some holiday cheer in your town.

Some older traditions seem to have fallen to the wayside with the newer generations, like dressing up for the holiday. I remember Mom making all of us girls matching outfits for the holidays or other special event (like a wedding). After all, you know there are going to be photos taken and, possibly, a video recording made. Why wouldn’t you want to look your best?

Photo by Gloria Pitzer

No matter what your favorite Christmas tradition is, the most important thing to keep in mind this season is to simply MAKE MEMORIES with those you love – ones that will be cherished for years to come! Copy and celebrate some old traditions and continue creating at least one new traditions each year to share with your family and friends. Wikipedia.org says that imitation is a form of social learning that leads to the development of traditions.

Who hasn’t made new family traditions for coming generations to copy and embrace? Just think about it, at some point, all of those old traditions were, once, new traditions that were so enjoyed they were, thus, passed on to future generations and continue to be so. Last year, I started a cookie exchange tradition with my girlfriends. I hope we can do it again in a couple of weeks or so.

As for me and my husband, our families’ gift exchanges have changed over the years. The old tradition focused more on the gifts and knowing exactly what the recipient wanted, while our new tradition of turning the exchange into a game focuses more on having fun and spending time together. In the end, years from now, the fun is probably what we’ll remember most when we share our memories of “Christmas Past”; not what we gave or received as gifts.

IN CLOSING…

To kick off the holidays, enjoy Mom’s homemade Kahlua-style liquor. Keep in mind, this isn’t something you can make and serve right away. Plan ahead because this needs to “sit” for at least 2 weeks before serving – but it’s so worth the wait!

Border artwork by Gloria Pitzer

Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective is available for sale, at $20.99 each, through the publisher, Balboa Press, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062252; it’s also available in eBook form, for $3.99, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062253

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