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?


 Our dear friend Erin Smallwood Wathen is back for another gorgeous essay about life, faith, and family. As I prep for the holidays, realizing that I sure would like a new Dutch oven in which to cook Thanksgiving dinner and that I don't quite know where I'll put all of my Christmas trees, Erin's wise words certainly hit home. As always, you can follow along with Erin's blog Irreverin or on her Facebook page. -- HCW

The calendar says it’s Thanksgiving week, and the stores say it’s Christmas already…but what I’m thinking of at the moment is Halloween. Halloween 2 years ago, to be exact.

I followed a sparkly red lady bug and a plush green dragon down the street.

Nevermind it was October 31. It was about 100 degrees outside, and the plush, fuzzy, cozy costume—which would have been just swell in some chilly autumn Midwestern burrow—was utterly ridiculous in the desert. But dang, he was adorable.

We’d just moved from one desert suburb to another… just a few miles apart, but worlds away. The place we’d been the previous year—with a two-year-old witch and a newborn, who went dressed as a newborn—had proved a little disappointing on Halloween. We only knocked on about 8 doors, and of those, only two actually opened and produced candy.

We were in a new neighborhood, expecting more of the same non-Hallow-happenings. But nossir, on our new block, trick-or-treat was an EVENT. We had a potluck on the cul-de-sac, took group pics of the kids, and then went trick-or-treating en masse. Our group had about 8 kids and twice as many parents. And every street we went down, we encountered another mob of kids and their chaperones. Nearly every house was decorated, every porch light on, every resident proffering a giant bowl of tiny treats.

About 12 houses in, my furry monster was burning up, and both of their buckets were full. The little lady bug could no longer carry her load, and I was picking up the trail of M&M packets accumulating behind her. I announced that, since the buckets were full, we were calling it a night.

That’s when one of the other moms said, “oh, this always happens, so we come prepared.” And she pulled out a handful of empty plastic grocery bags and started handing them around.

So…we did another block of houses.

Don’t get me wrong. It was great fun. And I like digging through the buckets, post-bedtime, and hijacking all the Snickers as much as the next mom. But, come on…at some point, you’ve got to acknowledge that the daggone bucket is FULL, and go home already.

This fear of ‘not enough’ whispers anxiety in our ear at every turn. It is the real goblin that haunts us, all the year around; maybe, even especially, into the holiday season. It snatches our happiest moments from us and fills us with dread. Sometimes, it even tries to take hold of our children.

Maybe I should explain a bit about why our old neighborhood was such a –pardon me—ghost town, the year before. It was 2010. And in Phoenix—one of the hardest hit housing markets in the country– that meant that every third house on the block was in foreclosure, pre-foreclosure, short sale process, or just plain empty. That’s why we, along with half the city, found ourselves in a different house the following year.

I couldn’t help but feel that, had the big banks just gone home when their daggone bucket was full, there would not have been quite such an exodus situation. But…the mythic voice of scarcity just keeps pulling at people. And really, the more you have, the more vulnerable you are to the voice that keeps whispering “you need more.”  In very real ways, investors gambled with real people’s livelihood and equity. Eventually, the handle on that bucket broke, and every last gumball rolled out into the street. That was 2008, of course.

Some of us are just coming back, while the big kids who broke the buckets went home with extra treat bags.

Ok, that metaphor has played out. Sorry.

Still, when I think about what it means to practice gratitude, I think of trick-or-treating with young kids, and teaching them to say ‘enough,’ even as the world says, ‘here’s an extra bag so you can carry more stuff.’ That was an important transitional time in our lives, and I learned a lot about simply breathing it all in, and being grateful for what is.  Now that I’m in transition again—from one church call to another; from the desert to the prairie; from parenting babies to parenting big(ish) kids— it all seems like a timely liturgy of thanksgiving.

On that Halloween night, 2 years ago, I hauled a loaded bucket, a full-to-breaking plastic bag, and an exhausted toddler home. I was grateful for my new neighborhood; for doors that actually opened in welcome, for a roof over my family’s head, for healthy kids who could eat candy…and for these fleeting years of glitter and wings and magic.

Out of the overflow, I handed my kid two pieces of candy and I said,

Repeat after me: this is enough. This is all we need.

Favorite Thanksgiving Dish? Easy.

I have one job to do for Thanksgiving. I pack up my family and get us all to Kentucky. No kitchen, no turkey brining, no worrying about the perfect side. This leaves me with plenty of time on the road to  feel nostalgic for my favorite holiday dishes and extoll the virtues of my favorite sweet potato topping. (Pecans, in case you were wondering.) There is one simple dish that serves as my holiday harbinger, and that is my mother's uncomplicated but superb cranberry relish. Although she has made this recipe for as long as I can remember, she won't take credit for creating it. She attributes this recipe to Mrs. Pauline Eblen of Henderson, who is the sweetest little woman you could ever hope to meet. No wonder it's so delicious.

Here's what you need:

2 small oranges, unpeeled
1 lb. cranberries
1 cup sugar*

The mason jar in the back contains coconut palm sugar, which I substitute
for the cane sugar to the right.
The result is not as pretty but every bit as scrumptious.

Slice the ends of the oranges away, then cut oranges into 1/2 inch chunks. Fill food processor with all the ingredients, then chop and grind to your desired texture. I recommend letting it chill for a day or so in your refrigerator to allow the flavors to marry. They will be so happy together, I promise.

Takes about a minute to grind all this to a perfect relish consistency.

Here's some helpful cranberry relish advice that you will want to follow, assuming that you make this once and immediately declare that you wish you had more of this or could save some for next summer. Try buying eight pounds of cranberries and a full bag of oranges. This stuff freezes exceptionally well, so plan on freezing one cup portions that you can easily thaw when you want to add a lovely burst of color to a table or just want a crazy good dollop of tangy cranberries on your mid-May turkey sandwich.

I didn't have any cooked poultry available, so please take my word that this tastes heavenly on any type of bird. Say you have some chicken breasts in the oven, but you become distracted by one child while his tiny partner in crime tosses your timer into the sink. Dried out chicken? Boom. Cranberry relish to the rescue! Imagine a boring leftover turkey sandwich promoted to gourmet status by some leafy greens and the zing from this cranberry relish. But just between us, you don't need anything but a ramekin dish and a spoon to enjoy this stuff.

Digging into some of this deliciousness in a few short days!

What dish signals Thanksgiving and the coming holiday season for you? We would love to hear from you!

The Holiday Breakfast Buffet

Thanksgiving isn't my favorite.

Easter Breakfast
When I think of Thanksgiving, I also think of all those times we waited and waited to eat. When we were kids, there was always this sense that "there's no need to eat when we'll have all that food." But, you know, Thanksgiving dinner wasn't until 1 or 2. That's a long-assed time to wait.

Christmas Breakfast
As an adult, I often find myself at my parents' for the holidays. I've fallen into the habit of preparing a holiday morning buffet. Easy recipes I make time and again. Things everyone loves. It's a great way to start the morning, and you don't have to wait so long until the big holiday meal. Sometimes, I make a quiche. Sausage balls are always a good call. And country ham biscuits (always on Sister Schubert's rolls!) are everybody's favorite.

This morning, I put together the traditional buffet. We talked UK basketball. And we eased into the holiday. It was a great start to the day.

Did Somebody Say Jello?

It's just not a southern holiday until somebody makes something with Jello.

Like Megan, I am blessed to have grown up with a grandmother who's an amazing cook. As my granny has gotten older, however, she hasn't been able to cook like she once did. She still quilts like a boss, but she's no longer able to cook.

This year, she asked for my help in making her cranberry salad. This concoction has three packs of Jello, and is the most Thanksgiving-y thing around. There aren't many of us who actually eat it, but it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without this dish on the table.

Nan's Cranberry Jello Salad
3 packs strawberry Jello (cherry works, too.)
1 cup sugar
3.5 cups hot water
1 Red Delicious apple, peeled and diced
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 cup pecans
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
1 can crushed pineapple (use the juice, too!)

Mix together Jello and sugar in large bowl. Pour in water and allow to thicken slightly. Stir in other ingredients and pour in flat-bottomed dish. Let chill overnight.

Boom. Thanksgiving in a dish.

What Do You Wear on Thanksgiving?

Remember that episode of Friends where Joey wore Rachel's maternity pants as "Thanksgiving pants"?

That's always the problem with Thanksgiving for me. It's a holiday, so I want to look nice. But, it's a holiday built around carbohydrates and football.  I don't want to wear a dress if everyone else is super-casual. And, you know, a more forgiving pair of pants sure wouldn't hurt.

I don't want to dress like I'm headed to yoga...

Casual Thanksgiving 2

Casual Thanksgiving 2 by heathercwatson


... But I also don't want to be overdressed.

Dressy Thanksgiving

Dressy Thanksgiving by heathercwatson


I find that, at least for my holiday purposes, dressing down is the key. I wind up playing outside with the dogs a lot on Thanksgiving. I try to layer up and stay comfortable. And hopefully not venture too far into "Outdoorsy Ralph Lauren-ish costume" territory. 

Casual Thanksgiving

Casual Thanksgiving by heathercwatson

Ok, sometimes I may fail on that endeavor, but I sure am nuts about those Winchester Shell earrings. (In case you're wondering, Santa...)

What do y'all wear to Thanksgiving Dinner?

When Do You Put Up The Tree?

 When do y'all put up your Christmas tree?

This time of year, that's a divisive question. Too early, and you're stealing Thanksgiving's thunder. Too late, and you're a bit of a Scrooge. It's a quandary of Christmas cheer.
My family doesn't do Black Friday. There's no 4 a.m. trip to Wal-Mart or Kohl's for us. The day after Thanksgiving is forever reserved as The Day We Put Up The Tree. Like Nordstrom, we wait until it's appropriate, but we don't wait too long.

Now, I may have been ready to succumb to the peer pressure of Facebook this weekend. Those folks who posted photos of their trees just seemed so... happy. I already have a few presents purchased, and it's just about time to pull out the Love, Actually DVD. It basically made sense, right?

I was almost convinced until I found myself in Ashland this weekend. I love that town's Christmas decorations, and I wanted to take a few photos for HerKentucky holiday posts. The decorations were as delightful as ever, but it was 63 degrees and sunny. Santa looked a little warm in the sunlight amidst the leaves. Maybe waiting another few days makes sense...

When is your "right time" for holiday decorations?