First, my specialty: Candy Cane cookies. I have made these yummy treats for over thirty five years. They are a huge hit, delicious and buttery, with a peppermint flavor.
Next, I made some shortbread cookies with dragees, and mixed the dough for rich roll cookies. I'll cut them out tomorrow and decorate them with some help from John and Jay. (I hope.)
I love this time of year and the build up to Christmas, Being in the kitchen today brought back so many memories of my childhood and growing up in the big house on Scottwood Avenue.
We decorated three Christmas trees in those days. The main tree was enormous and was placed in the living room, in a spot where it could be seen all the way from the library across the entrance into the living room. It also could be seen from the large dining room. Dad loved the idea that the tree was visible all through these rooms.
The second tree was smaller and prominently displayed in the huge bay window on the second floor, facing the street. The third and smallest tree was in a third floor window directly above the second floor tree. The effect was lovely because those two trees could be seen from the street.
Dad would pile us in the car one evening after he came home from work, and we would all help choose the trees. Purchased from the local nursery, they sat on the back porch until Christmas Eve. Then, and only then, were they decorated.
I loved the beat up old boxes filled with various ornaments that made their appearance once a year. We kids squealed with excitement as we unwrapped these treasures and decked the halls, all the while arguing about whose ornament it was or where it came from and how. This project took the whole day and during this time, Christmas music played on the HiFi. We had a collection of records by the Trapp Family, a very slow and romantic album by Jackie Gleason, a few Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff Singers, and lots of choir music. But mostly I remember Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians' rendition of "Twas the Night Before Christmas". Sweet and mellow, it was sung almost like a lullaby, the perfect listen after a bath to make young children sleepy. That group also did a wonderfully fun arrangement of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer", complete with sound effects. I'll never forget it, I still smile when I think of it.
We were packed off to bed as early as our parents could get us all fed and bathed, being scolded all the way to be good because Santa Claus was coming to town.
I remember being so excited, I couldn't sleep and waiting until Mom and Dad had gone to bed, then tiptoeing down the steps to try and catch Santa in the act of coming down the chimney. Alas, I missed him, the gifts were already under the tree sitting silently waiting to be received with joy. I loved that the whole house was so dark and quiet, it calmed me, and when I crawled back into my bed, I fell at once into a nice, dreamy sleep.
We arose early, as children always do, especially when they are excited. The five youngest of us would gather in the upstairs hall, near the big bay window, next to the tree and argue with one another about whom of us should go in and awaken our parents. This assignment usually fell to Chris, don't know why, but he did it. They cheerfully came out in their PJs and we'd all go down to see the living room filled with dolls, stuffed animals, trucks, toy army tanks, football helmets, hockey sticks and boxes wrapped in silver, red and gold containing new sweaters, scarves and mittens. At long last it was Christmas morning.
My older brothers and sisters usually appeared a few minutes after we went to open our gifts. We were instructed to wait until they came down. Being teenagers and college students, they had been out late on Christmas Eve, seeing friends home from college and attending midnight Mass. We waited for everyone at gather and then the fun began. One Christmas all I wanted was a "bride doll", i.e. a doll dressed up in a big white dress and veil. Santa granted my wish. There she stood under the tree. All beautiful, blond and covered in lace even with little white high heels. I was over the moon. Christmas was the best day ever.
After we opened our gifts, we went to Christmas Mass, followed by a big breakfast of pancakes and bacon. The rest of the day was spent playing with our new things and eating candy. Our parents were busy preparing Christmas dinner and too occupied to notice that we were stuffing ourselves with junk. How fun is that? When we sat down to a big feast of turkey and all the trimmings, I was always seated at the kids table-not so bad because no one noticed that all I ate was a bite of turkey and two rolls. No cranberry sauce, no potatoes, no green beans, and no brussels sprout. The only day of the year I wasn't told to "clean my plate".
When I was around the age of ten, Mom decided that we would start a gift exchange system called "Secret Pals". At Thanksgiving we threw each of our names into a hat and we each drew a name. That person became our "Secret Pal", meaning that we had to buy that family member a secret gift costing no more than $10.00 and no less than $5.00. Also we were not allowed to divulge the name of our "secret pal" until Christmas. I remember very clearly how excited I was with the whole mystery of it all. On Christmas day, before dinner, we would gather near the tree and, starting with the eldest, go around the room, each revealing who their pal was and presenting that person with a gift. It was great fun, and added an extra moment of warmth and togetherness to our family. That first year, my secret pal was my sister Mary, who gave me a tan leather shoulder bag and a pair of red and white striped knit gloves. I loved them and felt that they were just so very grown up and chic.
My parents made Christmas fun and festive but they always reminded us of the reason for the season. The Holy Family played a very important part in our celebration. I remember observing Advent, my brothers singing in the Chancel Choir, my brothers serving Christmas Mass, midnight Mass, the beautiful Creche at our parish, the Christmas pageant at Cathedral school. (I played the Blessed Virgin one year-eighth grade I think.) Often on Christmas day, Dad would drive us around to other churches to see their Creches.
I will be reminded again this Sunday of Christmas in Ohio and of the good times we had. I have tangible reminders too. Several years ago after our parents had passed away, my siblings and I met one lovely fall weekend and divided up what was left of our parents belongings. There were lamps, pieces of silver and dishes, some furniture and various knick-knacks. Somehow I ended up coming home with my mother's set of Spode china in the Romney pattern. It is beautiful and old fashioned, with lots of red tones and rich colors. Perfect for Christmas. I set my table with it every year and love using it because it makes me feel that my parents are near. I have one more reminder. That same day I took the family Creche which was purchased in Italy by Mom and Dad in 1950. As I write this, I am looking at it across the room. The figures are chipped here and there, but all the pieces are still in tact, even the donkey with his skinny little legs. It is old, elegant and I treasure it. These items give extra meaning to me on Christmas and I am thrilled to own them.
Merry Christmas everybody.