I'll be the first to admit I used to be a bit of a scrooge when it came to the holidays. Christmas was always fun as a kid, but as life became more complicated, it was less about holiday cheer and more about creating a harmonious schedule of house hopping between parents and families. I'm sure you other divorce kids know what I mean. When I first met Jim, I was still in my jaded "I-hate-Christmas" phase, but making new traditions as a couple has helped to melt my cold, Grinch heart. I also think growing up helps — the cooking, baking, boozing, and family gatherings just seem so much more fun as an adult. I love seeing friends and family visit from out of town, and dare I say, I even enjoy a good snowfall here and there (okay but after January, it's so not cool). I look forward to this time of year now more than ever, and it's mostly because of the way our celebrations have evolved. Here are some of my favorite traditions of the season:
My paternal grandma was Czech, and had her own yearly Christmas tradition of baking kolaches, which are an old-world Czech cookie. The dough is a true labor of love – it's a yeasted sour cream dough that takes over a day to rise, and then rolling/cutting/filling the dough with fruit preserves takes its own extra effort. When my grandma became too old to continue baking, my sister and I took over the kolaches to keep our family in full stock. My dad looks forward to these every year, so we can't miss a beat! We usually get together on Christmas Eve and have a beer, roll up our sleeves, and get to work. The whole process takes a few hours, but the reward is ever so sweet — and the process really keeps our grandma's spirit alive. I should also mention that if you're in the Cleveland area and want to try a kolache — call me. I haven't found a bakery around here that comes even close to the goodness of this recipe (and my dad agrees).
The tree (of course)!
After tolerating our old fake tree from our apartment days, Jim and I finally sprung for a new artificial tree that better fits our space. It's a big, glorious fir that's full of lights. I always enjoy decorating our tree, but this year was even more exciting for that reason. It's so much bigger, I had to go out and buy more ornaments to fill it up! However, most of our ornaments were gifts to each other, or represent a vacation, milestone, or joke that we have. I love to open up the box of ornaments and unwrap them, one at a time, and enjoy the memories of when we got it, or what it represents.
The Murray Family Christmas Party (#MFCP)
One of my best friend's families has been hosting a Christmas party for as long as I can remember. They do it up right — killer food with Italian flair, Kevin's oatmeal cookies, overflowing bowls of punch, and the outdoor ice luge brings a new meaning to "vodka on the rocks." Although our group of friends are now spread out across the country, sometimes a few of us are lucky enough to reunite at the party. It's also the place where my mom and stepdad met, 15 years ago, but that's a story for another day ;)
Both of our families have annual Christmas Eve gatherings, and no matter which one we go to, I have a great time visiting with our extended families. We are both blessed with lots of wonderful aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins and I love any excuse to see them. Their parties are always full of holiday appetizers, festive cocktails, hugs and laughs. It sounds incredible cheesy but I truly feel the warmth of the season when we all get together. I enjoy it just as much as Christmas day!
Gifting with Jim
Once all of our family time is finished, Jim and I make time for our Christmas — usually that night, once we're home and settled in. We light a fire, make a cheese board, enjoy a bottle of bubbly and exchange gifts. It's quiet and relaxed and we can take our time without having anywhere else to be. It's the perfect way to end the day.
I would love to know what you guys do for Christmas, or if you have made any new traditions. Every family and culture is different and I think that's what makes the holidays so interesting — it's just about celebrating what's important in whatever way that works for you.