The stars and the holidays don’t always align quite so closely, but this year the last days of December are absolutely jam-packed with winter holiday wonder. A few nights ago was the Winter Solstice (Yule), December 22nd marked the first night of Hanukkah, tonight is Christmas Eve, tomorrow is Christmas Day, and Kwanzaa begins the day after that! There’s a bit of magic in the air, and we hope you’ve been enjoying it (even if you’ve been as busy as we have been!!)
This month, we’ve written broadly about some of the holiday traditions we love. Some, like gifting presents, we grew up with. Others, like reading Christmas ghost stories, are traditions that we learned about and adopted as adults. So, this week, we decided to give you a peek into our own holiday traditions, a blending of the new and the old. Because that’s folklore: tradition and change!
Christmas Eve has always been a special night in Brittany’s family. Not only was it her beloved grandmother’s birthday, it was also the night, many years ago, where she’s sure she saw, well, something mysterious in the sky ;).
At her house, Christmas Eve is typically a night to bake cookies and watch holiday movies together. This year, it’s also her family’s annual “Sister’s Shopping Day” and, yes, it’s going to be… epic. They usually don’t wait this late, but this was the only day that worked for all of them this year and, well, they’ve been doing this for more than 25 years so they can’t miss it (no fear!!)
The first year they did it, Brittany’s oldest sister Kate was so excited to take her two little sisters shopping for Christmas presents… aaaannnddd she wound up having to carry their coats and presents and who knows what else around the mall all day :P. After that, the ‘no coats allowed’ rule was instituted, but the tradition happily continued! They have gone almost every year since (missing only one year due to a death in the family), and it has become one of Brittany’s favorite parts of Christmastime.
As a surprise, Brittany is planning to introduce the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod today as well. In this awesome practice, which translates roughly to “Christmas Book Flood,” hot chocolate is made, blankets are fluffed, and everyone is given a new book to read throughout the evening of Christmas Eve. She’s getting books for everyone on the shopping trip today (but shh, don’t tell :)!)
The best way to describe Sara’s holiday traditions while growing up is hella hybrid. Her family had menorahs and Christmas trees, and her mom makes some seriously mean latkes. (If you’ve never had latkes, do yourself a favor and track some down or tackle this New York Times recipe, because OMG crispy potato-y goodness.) Sara was traveling too much this December to do a full Christmas tree, but she does have a tiny one covered almost entirely in birds.
Sara has been getting seriously into Christmas ghost stories this year, and tonight, after she cooks a Very Traditional Christmas Feast (tomato-basil soup, spinach-orange-cashew salad, and grilled cheese sandwiches), she and her husband are going to read one out loud to her parents. Possibly Algernon Blackwood’s “The Kit-Bag” or Jeanette Winterson’s “Dark Christmas.” Her poor parents don’t know what they’re in for.
Sara’s Big Family Holiday Thing is crepes. She has no idea how this started, but apparently at some point her Jewish grandmother started making crepes on Christmas morning – Sara’s recipe is covered with her handwriting and artful spills of vanilla extract. This tradition is sacred but flexible. Some years, Sara’s family has crepes on New Years Day instead. The actual date isn’t important – just the winter festiveness and the crepes themselves. (Are you sensing that food is a big deal in Sara’s family culture yet?) This year, crepe day is Christmas Day. She, her husband, her parents, and some family friends will gather in the late morning. There will be a lot of champagne and Bloody Marys (that Sara learned to make from her grandfather), and it will take entirely too long/ exactly the right amount of time to make the crepes, and they will be the most delicious thing on the planet, smothered in a ridiculous amount of maple syrup.
What are you favorite holiday traditions this time of year? Do you love singing carols or performing a solstice ritual or making a particular dish? Tell us about your traditions in the comments, or let us know in our Facebook group. Whatever light you celebrate this time of year, we hope it shines bright!