Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Traditions

Nana (Kate) and baby Bobby
I think one of the wonderful things about the season is the traditions that each family creates. The familiar rituals and customs are something we all look forward to and it is interesting to see how they evolve as the kids get older.

Our starts early with the tree. My husband is responsible for selecting the tree (sometimes we accompany him, sometimes not) and putting it up. I put the lights on (a mistake I started when we were still dating...warning: be careful of what becomes a tradition!) and decorate it. Bobby usually helps with the decorating and the putting up, though this year the tradition had changed, since he is in college.

Food is always a big part of our holiday, starting with the cookies. Usually just after Thanksgiving, I'll send out a note confirming which cookies everyone wants and my sister & I will divide up the list, usually consisting of: Fudge, orange cookies, pineapple cookies, shortbread, sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, ginger snaps, chocolate-toffee crackers and butterscotch haystacks at a minimum. I like to wait until a few days before everyone arrives to make the cookies because I'm not a fan of freezing them.
Ocean Pines Christmas
For Christmas dinner we usually repeat the thanksgiving menu: turkey, oyster stuffing, horseradish carrots, beets for my sister, sweet potatos, mashed potatoes etc. A few years ago, I decided to try making a Christmas goose. My logic was that most of us like the dark meat and I figured a goose is more like a duck but bigger and would have the "darker" flavor. Well....it was a fiasco...not enough meat and I don't think I cooked it right. So now it is back to the Turkey. I've heard of "heritage" turkeys that are of a more diverse variety and uncaged so that they build up their legs and thighs, hence more dark meat. I need to see if I can find one of those!
Christmas in Tokyo (1968?)
We've always included a Chinese meal before Christmas day, often going on Christmas Eve to our favorite, Margaret Kuo's Mandarin. We've gone to this restaurant since before we had kids and for both the boys, it was the first restaurant food they ate. Kids LOVE chinese dumplings! We used to make our own Chinese meal. My mom had taken Chinese cooking lessons when we lived in Japan and made wonderful Peking Duck among other dishes. We would each have a responsibility. I would make the spring rolls, my mom would make the duck (she even had a hook installed over her kitchen sink to hang it from), my brother would carve the duck, my sister would do the fried rice. For years it went great. And then one year, we added another large group to the dinner and it was a mess. Nothing turned out well. Ever since then we've gone to the Mandarin...the meal is always perfect and after going there for over twenty years, it feels like family too!

A relatively new tradition we started is a jaunt into Philadelphia. We take the train into Philly and do a progressive lunch in a selected neighborhood of town. Usually we are going on December 23rd or so and restaurants are quiet at this time of year and happy to have a large group. We try to hit at least 3 places, plus a Christmas "sight". Last year, we stayed around Rittenhouse Square and did a.kitchen, Zama and then Parc for dessert. We also went to the Comcast building to watch their holiday show on the big screen. The year before we focused in Old City and had tapas at Amada, sushi at Zento and Chinese at Han Dynasty and ended up at the Franklin Fountain for hot chocolate and dessert. Someone usually brings a flask to "enhance" the hot chocolate! One of these years we need to catch the light show at the old Wanamakers building.

Games are  part of the tradition. Often we will drag out the mahjong set, each time trying to recall and bickering about the intricate rules of Japanese mahjong. Balderdash is a favorite (though I often seem to devolve into potty humor with my words as I drink more eggnog).

And of course there is Charades. Ever since we were young, this has been a part of our holidays as well as other gatherings with good friends. I think we first started playing with my god mother's family when they would come over the holidays when we lived in Oakmont. We had a family we were close to in both Japan and Pittsburgh with whom we shared Christmas and they were some competitive games! Back in the day, we'd include advertisements and quotes (categories now abandoned). Some of the classics were the quote on the back of the toothpaste tube "The American Dental Association has found that a preventative...." or old Wheaties commercial. Then there was the song, "Die Gotterdammerung, Siegfried's Rhine Journey", and yes, you had to get EVERY word right! It got to the point where we had to institute the two person rule where at least two people on the opposing team have to have heard of the clue. There are Charades acting bits that have become family legend: my uncle Danny acting out "Birth of a Nation"...  a fifty year old man writhing on the floor giving birth, and with our friends, Jim being "Forrest Gump" running back and forth (and back and forth) across his living room...run Forrest, run! and of course Dave's brilliant guitar rip for Bohemian Rhapsody!

The joy of traditions is that they give you an anchor for your memories, years and events blending together but all sharing that warm and fuzzy feeling that defines the holidays.

I hope you are enjoying a joyful, happy, warm and fuzzy holiday season.

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