Old traditions and new

I love the holidays. I love the sparkle and glitter, the hustle and bustle, the delicious anticipation. I want so much for my children to remember their childhood holidays as happy and warm, and I have to tell you I don’t think that has anything at all to do with the presents. Looking back on my childhood I would be hard pressed to tell you a single thing I asked Santa for, much less whether or not he delivered. That is hard to remember when you are a parent trying to balance your checkbook against the constant bombardment of holiday advertising and the desperate wish to just make your children happy. I have a hard time keeping perspective. But looking back what I remember most is time with my family  – and the wonderful only-at-the-holidays food.

I remember eating Hanukkah latkes by the dozen, sitting around the table in my grandparents apartment. And I remember my Grandmother Sophie reciting in Hebrew as we lit the candles on the menorah.

I remember sneaking into my Grandmother Kathleen’s freezer to eat her Christmas Jets, so hard and cold you couldn’t bite into them until they softened in your mouth, the bitter chocolate blending with the creamy inside and the crunch of frozen pecan. I remember my Grandfather Fletcher standing at the stove on Christmas morning frying salty country ham, a treat for that day only.

I remember baking Christmas cookies with my mother and sisters, the smell of cookies crisping in the oven, watching food coloring swirl into the white home-made frosting, how we would start out with such elaborately frosted creations but end by dripping gobs of frosting onto each cookie in a colorful mess.

I remember going downtown to visit Santa in Fantasyland, remember driving through town in the dark, cold night searching for the best Christmas lights. I remember Christmas Eve fondue dinner and how I always stabbed myself on the fondue fork, Christmas crackers with silly paper hats, new pjs and cookies for Santa.

I don’t know what Fletcher and Lola Gray will remember, but I am doing my best to continue some old traditions and create some new ones of our very own.

Though Hanukkah had not yet started, I peeled and grated 10 pounds of potatoes for latkes last week, enough to share with both the kindergarten and 2nd grade classes, and the kids are still begging for more.

We bake Christmas cookies every year just like I always did with my mother and sisters. I make Christmas Jets every year just like my grandmother did, and when the kids get wise to the fact that they can sneak them out of the freezer I will pretend that I don’t notice.

And I’m adding some new flavors to our holidays, like cheese wafers made from my sister’s mother-in-law’s special recipe.

Christmas Eve dinner is still a struggle for me. I can’t figure out a special just-for-the-holidays meal that pleases everyone (last year’s shrimp and grits were not well received by the kiddos) but it will happen eventually. Or maybe it won’t. Maybe we will eat something different every year. But the kids are in the Christmas Eve nativity play at church each year, and the candlelight church service is so beautiful I can’t imagine it not becoming a powerful part of our family tradition. The thing about traditions I guess, is that the best of them just happen. You can’t force it. Things present themselves to you, like the Christmas Day Oyster Roast with friends I have come to look so forward to. And while I still feel like I am finding a way to make these holidays on our own our own holidays, I know my children will look back and see only a seamless stream of traditions. Some of them they will keep and bring to their own families, some they will not, some new ones will be born. Exactly as it should be.

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