Redefining Tradition

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It is Christmas Eve and I am struck by the realization that the feelings I have today are not what I imagined they would be.  As I mentioned last year in A Holiday Pledge, sometimes the fantasy of the holiday season can be very different from reality.  When I was a teenager I imagined Christmas with my future-family, joyfully creating our own traditions.  But truly, I envisioned reviving all the traditions I had loved as a child when the holiday was still filled with magic and mystery.  This fantasy didn’t take into account that I would (hopefully) one day have a husband with his own ideas of what holiday tradition means.  It also didn’t take into account little people and their changing whims.  There are certain traditions I adhere to because they are important to me – santa photos and the nutcracker ballet, for example  But I picture my children when they are older, thinking back to their favorite traditions and I realize how little control I have over this.  They will love elements of their remembered holidays and most likely the things they remember will have little to do with the holiday we tried to “put on.”

My grandmother hosted Christmas Eve dinner every year of my youth.  It was always a beautiful, formal evening that I believe we looked forward to as children.  It was filled with delicacies like yorkshire pudding and homemade fudge.  Before dinner, my sister and I poured over every gift under her tree, quietly calculating how many presents were for each person.  I remember that we couldn’t wait for the formal meal to be over, so that we could move onto presents.  Dinner always took way too long for our tastes and we would become squirmy and anxious.  We couldn’t wait to unwrap my grandmother’s carefully selected and wrapped gifts.  This event signaled the beginning of Christmas and my sister and I adored it.  Since my grandmother’s death a few years ago, my husband and I have tried on new traditions such as dinner parties and caroling with friends, to varying degrees of success.  This year, we’re going to take the kids to church.  Every year feels like an experiment, a little of this, a little of that, all in hopes of creating a new magic combination.

Part of my realization today has to do with the fact that my experience as a child, must have been different from my parent’s or grandparent’s experiences.  I wonder now if my mom felt stress during those dinners, praying that her kids would behave?  I wonder, amidst our glee, opening our presents, if we ever thought to say thank you?  I wonder if my grandmother was too exhausted to enjoy herself after preparing such an extravagant meal, or if she was just happy to have her family around her table.

Today I had a plan that the kids and I would go to Swanson’s Nursery for their reindeer festival, a tradition that we have enjoyed in years past.  We hadn’t fit this event into our December yet and today is obviously the last day to go.  But, it turns out that the kids would much rather stay in their pajamas and watch the Cat in the Hat Christmas special.  This year, on this day, I have decided not to fight it.  I don’t want my children’s memory of  holiday traditions to be of their mom fighting them to go to one more holiday event.  I wonder what they will remember?  Will it be the events we attended year after year?  Will it be watching cartoons in their pjs?  Will it be that year we went to church?  Will it be making gingerbread houses or eating them?

My mind wanders to how the future will unfold and what will become important and lasting to them.  This all feels like it is out in front of us, still something to be defined and refined.  Truly, it is probably happening before our eyes.

To me, I guess the most important tradition is that we are together.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas!

Christmas Fudge

Note:  I started this blog on a whim, not really having any idea how to do it, where it would go, or what I would write about (or if anyone would read it).  I didn’t expect to enjoy it quite so much.  I thought of it as an exercise that might be good for me or allow a larger conversation to begin about what might be next on my life agenda after having these babes… As the year comes to a close, I am enjoying thinking about how this blog is evolving.  The blog has allowed me to ponder thoughts and memories out loud.  Hopefully these meanderings have an element of universality so that on occasion they hit a chord with you and allow you a moment of introspection as well.  Anyway, that is my hope…

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My grandmother made Christmas lovely.  As I have mentioned in a previous post, the women of my family have an attention to detail and a love of beautiful things.  Being of German descent, Christmas Eve was the big deal on her side of the family and my sister and I always looked forward to the Christmas Eve celebration at her home.  Her table was set just so, in the same familiar way each year, with china and silver and little wooden snowmen.  As is custom in the German tradition, presents are opened on Christmas Eve, so that, too, was exciting to us.  We could barely contain ourselves as we sat through a traditionally long dinner; instead salivating over the presents we knew were waiting for us.  Part of what my grandmother clearly understood was the ability to truly think of the individual when giving a gift.  We knew that we would love whatever she had picked out and felt her love, through her recognition of our individuality.  The gifts of the past are a happy blur, but the love I felt when looking at a package she had carefully wrapped stays with me.

One of the gifts I remember that she gave year after year was a gift to my father, a notoriously difficult one to purchase for.  Instead of trying to find one more “thing” he wanted or needed she made him fudge.  Each year he would open the tin and find individually wrapped pieces of her Christmas Fudge and immediately dive in.  I believe he loved it – both the gesture and the fudge recipe itself.  I few months back I referenced my grandmother’s book of recipes that have been in my possession since she passed.  Her Christmas Fudge is one of the recipes that was inside.  I tried it for the first time this year and my father will be receiving it for Christmas.  I hope I do the memory justice.

CHRISTMAS FUDGE

(taken from my grandmother’s handwritten recipe)

48-60 pieces

3 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cups Parkay margerine (I used butter)

2/3 cups (5 1/3 oz can) Carnation evaporated milk

1 – 12 oz package semi sweet chocolate bits

1 – 7 oz jar Kraft marshmallow creme

More than 1 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (1/2 of a 6 oz jar)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

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Combine sugar, margerine & milk; bring to a rolling boil, stirring frequently.

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Keep lid on as much as possible to prevent graininess.  Boil 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly (mixture burns easily).

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Remove from heat; stir in chocolate bits until melted.  Add marshmallow creme, peanut butter, nuts, and vanilla; beat until well blended.  Pour into a greased 13″x9″ pan.  Cool.  Cut in squares.  To store, wrap pieces separately in Saran & put in a cookie tin.

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This was my first go around with any kind of fudge and found it to be quite easy!  I’m sure there are a million and one variations that one can do depending on your tastes.  This particular recipe has a nice chocolate flavor with a twist of peanut butter and a certain mellowness that I believe comes from the marshmallow creme.  I literally laughed out loud when I looked over this recipe, as the family tradition of quoting the necessity of marshmallow creme for random recipes (that definitely do not call for it) has been a long standing joke in the family.  This is the first recipe from the family that I have ever seen that actually does call for it!

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