New Holiday Traditions

The holidays are all about tradition. The decorations, the celebrations, the family customs -- no matter your faith or background, there are traditions you observe every year.

In recent years, I've thought a lot about holiday traditions, as my beau and I attend Christmas gatherings with our respective families, and build traditions of our own.

Somewhere along the way, my go-to holiday dish has become Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon. It couldn't be more different than the huge Southern spreads that were customary in my childhood. And yet, I cook it with the same degree of love and attention to detail that my granny always applied to her customary Christmas Eve fried chicken. I find myself making the French beef-and-wine stew for special holiday meals with the people I love. 

This year, my beau and I stayed home for Thanksgiving. Despite the made-for-Hallmark-TV promises that we can all go home for the holidays, sometimes work obligations impose themselves. Since it was just the two of us, we scaled back Thanksgiving dinner to reflect a lower-carb sensibility. Neither Sister Schubert rolls nor pies were to be found anywhere. As we enjoyed our boeuf bourguingnon and pancetta-roasted Brussels sprouts, I realized that, just maybe, we'd created a holiday tradition of our very own.

Have you created any new holiday traditions at your house?

Kentucky Traditions: Southern Lights

Usually during the Kentucky wintertime, with its unpredictable weather, I spend a lot of time holed up in my house. I don't have kids, so there isn't a lot of incentive to head to parades or to see Santa. There is, however, one holiday tradition that I do brave the cold for: Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park. 

Photo by whenlostin on Flickr

This marks the 20th year of Southern Lights, which is a wonderland of oversized lighted holiday decorations that run through the Kentucky Horse Park. You get to stay in your car and "ooh" and "aah" at the over 1 million lights while running the heat at full blast. My favorite display every year is the "12 Days of Christmas" which is illustrated through twinkle lights. There are also animated displays, which are fun.

Photo by osubeav on Flickr

I don't stay in the car for long though. I always pop out at the end where they have pony and camel rides (for the youngin's), craft vendors, refreshments, and other fun things. But the real reason I get out in the cold? The petting zoo.

I mean really, who doesn't want to feed the goats?!

I'm not quite sure why my husband and I love the petting zoo so much. It's just a fun thing to do, and you can get your hand tickled by animal lips as they eat feed. They're just so darn cute. 

The lights are on each night (from 5:30-10:00 pm) through December 31, and the indoor attractions are be open each night, with the exception of November 28 and December 24 through December 31.

Southern Lights is a great family event and is budget-friendly since you pay per car versus per-person.
  • Personal Vehicle (Sunday - Thursday) $15.00
  • Personal Vehicle (Friday and Saturday) $20.00
  • Extended Van  $30.00
So, if you head out to Southern Lights, make sure to look for me at the petting zoo. I'll most likely be with the goats. 

The Christmas Repeal

We don't drink in my hometown. 

Well, people do drink alcohol, of course, but it's never been as socially acceptable to go out and have a glass of wine or a cocktail in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky as it is in the Commonwealth's bigger cities. Part of it is a religious distinction; there's a whole lot of Baptists in our neck of the woods. Part of it is economic; there isn't a lot of extra income for frivolous things like drinkin'. And, more than a little of it comes down to the booze we produce. The Appalachian end of the state doesn't produce Kentucky's storied bourbon. We don't have limestone in our water, nor do we have oak barrels charred to exacting specifications. We have a proud -- or perhaps infamous -- history of moonshine stills. Most of us have a 'shiner or two on our family tree, whether we want to admit it or not. When your spirits are less than legal, you generally don't announce them with pride.

via Maker's Mark

That all changes, come the holidays. Now, it's never been any surprise to me that the 21st Amendment was repealed on December 5th. You need to break out the good stuff for the Christmas baking. And, we may need a little nip in the house, because you never know if company will want some. Even the most devout Baptist grandmas suddenly know their liquor store order when it comes time to make holiday confections. They want Maker's Mark or Early Times. Or rum for the cake. It's not like we drink the rest of the year. It's simply a month-long lift on the Prohibition, in the name of good cheer.

My grandma Margaret would never touch a drop, but she sure would soak her fruitcake. My great-aunt Marie made these weird little cookies with raisins and cherries and a whole lot of rum; they were strangely addictive, and the whole family loved 'em. And then, there are the bourbon balls. My family's recipe. I can't make enough of them during the holidays; everybody wants some. It doesn't matter if you touch bourbon the rest of the year.

This week, we celebrate the 80th anniversary of Prohibition's repeal, and the far longer-standing tradition of the Christmas Repeal. Here's my family's bourbon ball recipe, if you find yourself in the mood for drinking or baking.

  • 1 to 2 cups good bourbon whisky (preferably Maker's Mark) 
  • 1 cup chopped pecans 
  • 1/2 to 1 cup whole pecan halves (optional) 
  • 1 two-pound bag of powdered sugar 
  • 1 stick butter, softened 
  • 1-2 bags semisweet chocolate chips (preferably Ghiradelli)
  •  paraffin wax 

  1. Place 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped pecans in shallow bowl. 
  2. Pour bourbon over nuts, immersing completely. Cover and let soak 12 hours to overnight. 
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecan halves in shallow pan and toast lightly for about ten minutes. Cream butter in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. 
  4. Combine bourbon-pecan mixture with just enough powdered sugar to form a stiff ball. Refrigerate to let stiffen slightly. Roll dough into small balls. 
  5. In double-boiler (or a sauce pan placed over a cooker full of boiling water), add a third to a half a bag of semisweet chocolate chips and a small shaving of paraffin wax (no more than 1/4 cup). Heat until just smooth. Dip dough balls into the chocolate mixture. The key is to coat them quickly and make small, frequent batches of melted chocolate. 
  6. Place bourbon balls on wax paper to cool. 
  7. Top each ball with a toasted pecan half, if desired. Results are better if you leave them to cool at room temperature rather than in the refrigerator.

A Caney Creek Christmas Tree: Alice Lloyd College Ornaments

Alice Lloyd College is a very special place for my family. The College has been a part of my family for generations. So many of my relatives can thank ALC for their education and their career path. It's truly an amazing, one-of-a-kind school.

Every year, ALC sends little presents out to all its alumni. These gifts are  work-study projects for ALC students. These ornaments are some of the "Caney presents" we've collected over the years. The ornaments are actually marked with name, class, and major of the student who made them. What a wonderful reminder that, after all these years, Alice Lloyd College is carrying out the mission of the great lady who founded the school!