Tidbits & Traditions
The Old Tablecloth Trick
Instead of buying tablecloths for each holiday, start a new tradition. Purchase one and have guests sign it before holiday dinners. When the holiday is over, embroider over each guest’s signature, creating a holiday heirloom.
It’s better to give than to receive, but you have to know when to give. If you feel like giving back this holiday season, why not volunteer at a soup kitchen? Consider showing up not on Thanksgiving or Christmas day, when most soup kitchens are already bursting at the seams with volunteers, but a week before or after a big holiday. People who are dealing with stress or loneliness related to an impending or recently passed holiday will appreciate it.
If you’re looking for a way to keep the kiddos busy before a holiday meal, put them in charge of making butter. Simply fill some mason jars halfway with heavy cream, seal tightly, and let the youngsters shake the daylights out of them. It takes about fifteen minutes of diligent shaking for the cream to turn into butter. When a ball of butter forms in the jar, drain off the liquid (which is buttermilk) and press out the remaining liquid with a wooden spoon. Stir in a bit of salt if you wish, and the butter for your bread will be extra special.
We all know Thanksgiving is the day when family (ideally) gathers around the dining room table looking like a Norman Rockwell painting. But what if you aren’t able to make it to your family’s Thanksgiving dinner? Don’t despair and succumb to holiday depression. Why not host a Friendsgiving? Invite all your friends who can’t get home for the holidays. The best part is it doesn’t even have to be on the fourth Thursday in November. You can pick any date you want. Now that sounds like something Norman Rockwell might draw.
Holiday on Ice(land)
The average Texan might not know a lot about Iceland other than Björk’s swan dress and the fact it’s ironically warmer than Greenland, but they have one of the most charming Christmas traditions American families should adopt. It’s called Jólabókaflóð. It’s pronounced… Well, don’t worry about how it’s pronounced.
On Christmas Eve, everyone in Iceland gets a book, and spends the entire day absorbed in their new literature while eating chocolate. This is a tradition you could implement in your family as is, or try adapting for a larger group.
This time of year, everyone is invited to ornament exchanges or white elephant gift parties. Most people end up getting an ornament that doesn’t go with their personal taste or some gag gift which is going to be discarded at the earliest opportunity. Instead, host a party where everyone is encouraged to bring a copy of their all-time favorite fiction book and have a white elephant book exchange. You could even give some chocolate for people to eat when they read their new book. Now that’s the true spirit of… that.
Santa’s Secret Spies
The trend of elves spying on children and reporting back to Santa on their naughty and nice behavior seemed to have come out of nowhere. In reality, this tradition has been a staple of many families for generations. Santa’s helper can take many forms—not just an elf with a really good publicist.
You can get one of Santa’s helpers anywhere, including a dollar store. Take your pick! It doesn’t matter if it’s a stuffed animal, snowman, or reindeer. They will move around your house just as well as an elf. The children will never know where it will turn up next. It can be in the bathroom, on your Christmas tree, or even on the shelf. He or she will be more than happy to tell the big guy up north whether or not the children in your life deserve presents or coal.
Easy Breezy Christmas Eve-y
With all the hard work that goes in to making your family’s magical Christmas Day meals and traditions come to life, why don’t you make it easier on yourself by making Christmas Eve a breeze? A fun, contemporary idea for Christmas Eve dinner is for each family member to pick out a frozen appetizer of his or her choice, then cook them up and enjoy serving them buffet style. No muss. no fuss!
If you’re longing for a simpler time, break out your finest 50s attire and celebrate this holiday in retro style. Not only is a kitschmas party wholesome good fun, it’s also an economical crowd pleaser.
Set the scene with an aluminum or heavily flocked tinseled tree and decorate with anything that would have been at home in Donna Reed’s living room. Put on some classic Christmas albums (bonus points for vinyl albums playing in the corner). For refreshments, the crazier the better. Deviled eggs served with party crackers and cream cheese make excellent appetizers. For the main course, look for any old recipes with “loaf,” “casserole,” or “surprise” in the title. Don’t forget the gelatin salads! Keep desserts simple with a variety of pies and a pineapple upside down cake. This is the perfect time to use your grandmother’s punch bowl.
Do you not want your family to be glued to their individual screens in separate rooms of the house? If you want to bring everyone closer together, why not get a new brand-new board game to play as a family? This low-tech tradition is a great idea for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. As a matter of fact, it’s a good idea for every holiday—not just the ones this time of year.
Happy Noon Year!
A fun tradition for families with little ones is to ring in the New Year twelve hours early. Instead of counting down to midnight, count down to noon on New Year’s Eve. What better way to start the New Year than with a good night’s sleep?