I’m thinking about…

I'm thinking about tradition just a little bit now, trying to figure out what I want to carry forward. For Christmas, my parents and sisters and brothers-in-law bought me most of the set of china I've been wanting and not able to justify buying. They're GORGEOUS.

Ittala's Taika line is made in Finland, designed by a mad artisan, Klaus Haapaniemi, and seem perfect for a fairytale winter holiday. I have almost a complete serving set for four now (plate, small plate, bowl) -- I'd actually like to expand that to eight when I can, so we can have dinner parties with this china. But for now, four is plenty, since my plan is to make this our everyday china for the winter. How you can you not feel cheerier in the grey Chicago gloom, if you're eating off plates decorated with whimsical owls and fox/peacocks?

This is my plan.

Thanksgiving, we'll celebrate either at home or with relatives. If at home, Kev and I were talking about trying to develop a real hybrid Indo-American dinner -- all the traditional favorites, but with a slight S. Asian flavor. Cranberry-ginger chutney, for example. Cumin & chili-spiced yams. Can it be done, and still retain the essential Thanksgiving-y-ness? Hmm...

The day after, we'll be home, getting our tree, putting up decorations. I want a real tree, and have always just bought one, but our neighbors drive out to a farm and cut one down themselves, and I think we may try doing that next year. It sounds like fun, if slightly dangerous. (Sometimes the best fun is slightly dangerous.) After the tree and decorations are up, out comes the winter china! I'll pack away the regular stuff for the season. This is also when we switch to the winter linens -- bedspreads, pillows, that sort of thing. Lots of dark red and silver and white and forest green. I'm traditional. And we decorate the gingerbread house.

December 1st, the advent calendar goes up -- we have one handmade for Kevin by his mom that I think we'll keep using -- it's large and felt and lovely. A little ornament and a chocolate each day, as we count down to Christmas.

I'd like to add a cookie-baking party, maybe the first Sunday in December? This can be our main holiday party with friends -- I think it's good to get it in early, before everyone's schedules get too crazy. Typically, I make an English tea for this party -- rich cake (the Sri Lankan version of plum pudding), mincemeat pie (one with real meat, which almost no one but me will eat, another with just fruit), berry trifle, little sandwiches with the crusts cut off, lots of tea, mulled mead, eggnog. I'm particularly grateful and delighted that for Christmas this year, Kevin's mom gave me her silver tea set. It'll be so nice to use it for this party (and all my other tea parties). At some set point during the party, I will attempt to coerce everyone into carol singing around the piano.

Then some quiet -- the semester winds down, the shopping winds up. And I'm thinking about how to incorporate some of Kevin's family traditions into our own. Ann makes a wonderful breakfast casserole on Christmas day, with egg and cheese and sausage and green chili, served with platters of fresh cut-up fruit. I think that may be our new Christmas Eve breakfast.

I haven't figured out any other meals for Christmas Eve yet. We'll see what evolves. Once it gets dark, I'm thinking I send Kevin and the kids for a drive to look at Christmas lights, while I finish up wrapping / cooking. And after dinner, everyone gets to open one small present before bed. My family did that for a while, and it's a big help. :-) I'm tempted to formalize it to always being a book too -- might help with the getting to sleep despite excitement. Or new pyjamas. Or both. We'll see. I would like there to be more carol singing now, with just the family -- hopefully, I can talk them into it. Kevin doesn't sing, but he can turn pages at the piano, right? Or maybe I will teach him to play the piano. I should save some sparklers from 4th of July, because in Sri Lanka, Christmas is celebrated with fireworks.

On Christmas Day, open stockings in the morning, after tea/coffee/hot chocolate. Both the kids get new ornaments in their stockings, marked with their name and the date. (I totally forgot to do this this year, but luckily, Grandma got it.) So that when they go off to college, they'll have twenty or so ornaments to take with them. As they get older, they can pick them out themselves, earlier in the year.

Then Sri Lankan breakfast of hoppers (egg hoppers and sweet coconut milk hoppers and plain hoppers with a curry). Hoppers are labor-intensive, so will be reserved for special occasions in my family. A little downtime, and then perhaps around 9 or 10, the serious present-opening begins. Kevin's family lines up by order of size, and while it's sort of ridiculous, it's also charming. Someone wears the red Santa hat and is the Christmas elf. Ditto ridiculous, ditto charming. I plan to institute both traditions, hopefully lining up on the stairs and taking a photo every year. Although who takes the photo? Hmm.

Then presents, going around one by one, so we can properly ooh and aah over each one. Ideally, I'd like to advocate for at least one handmade gift from each person, but I'm not sure the rest of the family will go along with that. Maybe.

And then Christmas dinner, formal and Anglo, inviting some close friends to join us, perhaps. Christmas crackers (and the accompanying wearing of silly hats), a fine set table with china and crystal, a fancy meal. I'll actually change the dishes for this, to the cream and gold set of wedding china Kevin's mom passed down to me several years ago. Not sure exactly what we'll eat -- roast goose, Beef Wellington? Hmm. We may have to try a few options before we settle down to the favored tradition. Can you have a tradition of a new menu every year? Does that still feel like a tradition? Maybe a tradition that Daddy makes Christmas dinner? :-)

And on New Year's Day, open house all day at our house. My friend Debbie does this in Oakland, and I think it's a lovely tradition -- I really enjoyed attending. Also a good way to use up any leftover holiday eggnog, mincemeat pie, etc. (Do I take down decorations before, or after, this?)

I think I need a chart to keep track of it all. With a timeline.

I know, it's sort of silly, planning it all out a year in advance. But while it'll be sad not to come to California again, as we've done for almost all of the last nineteen years, it'll also be exciting to start hosting Christmas in our very own home.

10 thoughts on “I’m thinking about…”

  1. That sounds charming! Cutting your own tree is a lot of fun! (just remember, they are larger in the wild than they seem!).

    We always had a tradition of reading the Christmas story the night before, there are some wonderful children’s books about it… Christmas was also one of the few times we went to Mass, maybe you want to find a church that does a lessons and carols service to go to? Or go to midnight mass (most Catholic churches now do ‘midnight mass’ at 8 or 9 or 10 now). It is a beautiful service, and most have special Christmas music. Some churches have a ‘children’s service’ where the children’s choir sings, or they have a pageant… (I know you and Kevin are not religious, but there is something nice about a Christmas eve service, speaking as a lapsed agnostic!)

    When I originally moved into my house, I considered getting a live tree (with root ball) and planting it and making that a Christmas tradition…. (but you’d have to do that soon before Christmas and put it in the ground right away… so that went ptthhhbbbtttt).

    With two kids, you are going to get handmade presents, I really wouldn’t worry about it. 🙂

    We also had traditions with various decorating things. We had a paper Christmas Village (punched out of a book) that I always put together, and we had Christmas window clings we would put up…. as well as an Advent calendar.

    We would also sing carols and have eggnog Christmas eve.

    There is an Italian tradition of fish for Christmas eve…would that be an option for you?

  2. This all sounds very lovely, in a Martha Stewart sort of way — but remember that Martha has an entire staff to execute her detailed charts. 🙂 And every December, the women’s magazines beg women not to go insane doing too much for the holidays!

    If I’ve learned anything from the last eighteen Christmases with Tim, it’s that traditions evolve. We’ve picked some up along the way — especially as our children weighed in on what they did and didn’t like — and discarded others. May I respectfully suggest that you try adding a couple of things a year, see if they work, and gently let go of those that don’t?

  3. BTW, I would *love* that breakfast casserole recipe, if you’re willing to share — I’m cooking brunch for the neighborhood in January, and have been casting about for something that sounds tasty and winter-appropriate; “egg and cheese and sausage and green chili” is both. 🙂

  4. I had a live tree several years ago which I kept inside until spring and then set out in the yard. It lived for about fifteen years until it got some sort of insect infestation which killed it. So, there is another option besides setting it into the ground right away.

  5. Our family had the one-present-on-Christmas-Eve tradition, and it was wonderful…as long as we got to choose our own presents. I would’ve been fine having it chosen for me if it was a book (all I really ever wanted for Xmas was books), but one year, my mother made me open the box that contained new slippers.

    And I was devastated.

    To me, if felt like Xmas was tainted – the Eve present was a portent of things to come, and now I felt like it was going to be a boring, practical Xmas with no books or games or fun things.

    Just food for thought! 🙂

  6. I kept seeing that china in stores and thinking you’d love it, but I wasn’t sure it would make it overseas intact. Nice to have my instincts confirmed!

  7. As far as traditional thanksgivings and cultural adaptations go, I recommend the film What’s Cookin if you havnt seen it. And the tree comes down on January 7th the day after Epiphany – the official end of Christmas. 🙂

  8. As far as traditional thanksgivings and cultural adaptations go, I recommend the film What’s Cookin if you havnt seen it. And the tree comes down on January 7th the day after Epiphany – the official end of Christmas. 🙂

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