Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Dec 8, Cookies

Nothing makes me happier than giving tins of Christmas cookies to friends and neighbors. Having four girls in the family, there's always a helper around when it's time to spend a day baking cookies, sprinkling the sugar, placing the little decors around or taste testing. Neither of my Grandmothers were big on making Christmas cookies. I have my paternal grandmother's cookbooks - most recipes are for dinner meals and how to cook on a budget. But, my Mom? She was all about making Christmas cookies and decorating them with little intricate decorations.

While I don't have any photos of them unfortunately, some I can clearly remember. Mostly she made cookie cutter cookies - carefully assembling holly leaves with green icing and little red balls, wreaths with silver balls and little red bows, She also made angels and I think her favorites were the stained glass cookies. Mom also made miniature pecan tarts that were absolutely wonderful. Itty-bitty crusts filled with yummy sticky goodness! One of my favorite cookies that she made was her cranberry cookies which were always a staple this time of year.

With my own children we've made many different things over the years. Our favorites are Russian Tea Cakes, and little decorated spritz butter cookies made from a cookie press (pictured above) - how did I ever live without that? While they're not an intricate cookie-cutter cookie, they're yummy, easy to decorate, easy to make and come in large batches so you can make multiple designs in one batch. We also enjoy making fudge, mint bark candy, little minty snowmen (pictured here), peanut butter buck-eyes, peanut butter cookies, and lots of different breads (banana, cranberry and pumpkin). We make lots and lots of this stuff and then pack up tins or plates to share with neighbors, friends, teachers, bus drivers and the milk man.

I'm sure that all of these holiday goodies will be remembered by my own kids, but most of all the memories of cold days spent in the kitchen together making them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories Dec 4th Christmas Cards

Christmas cards are wonderful things. I love finding a pile of them in my mailbox during the early weeks of December. Sadly, it's too often that this is the only time we hear from some distant relatives and friends.  We hang ours on a pantry door in the kitchen, enjoying them through the month and adding to them everytime we get another greeting in the mail. In my parents home we did a similar thing, there was a louvered door in their kitchen and the cards easily slipped through it, overlapping each other and filling the door throughout the season.

Now that I have my own family, I do send cards every year to close friends and family. My Mom always sent cards - when I was old enough to help I seem to remember hundreds of them - possibly I just didn't want to help and the task seemed endless :) My own family now sends about 30-40 cards a year.

What do you do with them when Christmas is over? I'm sure that there are some who pack them away every year and others who simply keep any photos sent and drop the cards in the trash. Thankfully, my great-grandmother Margaret McCann Bellew kept some very special Christmas greetings sent from her husband John Bellew while they were apart - she in England with two children and her husband here in the US with another of their sons, building their new life.

While these cards are not what we see today in typical Christmas design, they are beautiful and contained hand-written notes of Christmas greetings from her husband and a son that went ahead with him to the US.

I was unable to scan these cards - they are not made of paper, but rather the fronts are some type of plastic material that is very fragile at this point, so I photographed them some time ago, and they have been put away for safe keeping. The embroidered one in the back appears to have more of a Christmas design and the greeting inside is as follows:

From Your Loving Husband and Son Willie
To Wife and Children
25th Dec 1923

When she finally joined her husband in the US, Margaret had the terrible misfortune of leaving one of her sons (John) in England. This must have torn at her heart for her entire life. When he was older, he sent Christmas greetings from England to his parents:

After seeing these cards in Margaret's things, I knew that she loved them and I will hang onto them and preserve them as best I can for future generations.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 3, Tree Ornaments

So my dates are a bit off and I'm a few days behind, but I wanted to share this post from last year.

Christmas is a magical time - excitement, anticipation and many enjoyed festivities go along with the season, making it a wonderful time to share with family. Nothing gets that excitement started like decorating the house and putting up the tree. I remember as a child growing up, after the Thanksgiving turkey was put to leftovers and the pumpkin pie was gone, it was time to decorate for Christmas!

The tree trimming was my primarily Mom's job, but we all enjoyed looking through the ornaments, straightening the branches of our tree and helping to hang them all. In our family every child got a new ornament every year. My parents carefully put our names and the year on the ornament somewhere. In those earlier years our tree didn't really have a "theme" but was more of what I would call a children's tree. After all, Christmas was all about the children. There were a few sets of glass ornaments that my parents had purchased over the years and we always hung those as well. Over time, there were less and less of them, as various ones got broken. I have two or three such ornaments from those glass bobbles that belonged to my parents when they first started their lives together. These are among my most cherished ornaments and I put them on my tree every year.

On the first Christmas after moving from my parents home Mom pulled all of my ornaments from her boxes and gave them to me - giving me a collection of ornaments to start decorating my own tree.

This Santa is plastic, covered with thin felt and is from 1974 and the Pooh below is from 1978. My children give me a hard time about these every year - "Here Mom, it's that old Santa"


When my paternal Grandmother passed away in 1995 I received very few of her Christmas decorations. But among them was this ornament which I have carefully put on my tree every year ever since. I haven't any idea where she got it and I had never seen anything like it but it too is one of my most cherished.

Every year my ornaments get a little older and every year we add new ornaments to our tree for each of our children. My Mom still gives me (and my kids) a new ornament every year. When they grow up I hope that they enjoy taking them out every year, remembering the times we had trimming our tree and adding to their collections for their own children, keeping the family tradition alive.