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On this Festival of Lights, celebrated every December, we wish for peace and tranquility to be restored for all people throughout the world. And to the extended family and friends of GBSM, may this be a year of health, happiness and good fortune imbued with gratefulness for all the many blessings that grace our lives.
One favorite holiday tradition is our activity advent calendar. Each day in December, we count down the days to Christmas by doing a special (or less special) activity as a family. Activities include writing letters to Santa, decorating gingerbread houses, going to plays or concerts, volunteering, ice skating, watching holiday films, baking goodies, looking at Christmas lights, etc. Each year the calendar is filled with old favorites and new things to try (like curling)! The most important part is that we spend a bit of quality time together each day.
Each year on Christmas Eve, we gather with my mom’s side of the family for dinner and a white elephant gift exchange. The tradition spans four generations and 30-plus years, and the guest list continues to grow as new members of the family join the celebration. One of the best parts of the gathering in recent years has been the unplanned “twinning” between my oldest nephew and me. Great minds dress alike!
My favorite holiday family tradition is the bags of Cape Cod chips on our Christmas tree – it was the first thing my brother ever asked for from Santa. His wish was granted and continues to be every year since then. However, some years, Santa’s elves struggle to find the Cape Cod brand which is met with much disappointment from those who celebrate with our family. They’re a great snack to power you through the holiday season!
My first job, at 13-years old, was being the stock boy at the Stationery Station in Highland Park, IL. During the busy holiday season, I was tasked with wrapping presents. This taught me to master perfect, crisp, folded corners…beautifully voluminous hand-tied bows and using the sharp edge of a scissor blade to curl ribbon. Those skills still get put to use at our house every Christmas as my wife and I compete over who can pick the perfect combination of paper, ribbon and various present-topping accoutrements. The result is that – while some homes have their elegant “department store” Christmas tree – our home has a decadent array of presents adorning our vintage silver tree.
Every year since before I was born, my family has participated in the Mile High United Way Turkey Trot at Washington Park. From being pushed in a baby jogger while my dad raced for top times, to running with Irish cousins visiting for their first Thanksgiving, the Turkey Trot has always started my family’s holiday season with chilly temperatures and a fun crowd!
I’m a proud proponent of one of the most polarizing holiday traditions – the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot. Yes, when most are enjoying their lazy holiday weekend morning, my fiancé Rory and I have made it a tradition to find our nearest turkey trot and get in some pre-feast miles. We love the sense of community at the Mile High United Way Turkey Trot in Washington Park in Denver and the Boulevard Bolt in Nashville, where we celebrated Thanksgiving this year with Rory’s family.
We look forward to some early morning skiing Christmas Eve followed by afternoon fondue, and mulled wine or bubbles. And on Christmas day the same skiing, good food and cheer around a backyard firepit with friends and family.
Every December, our family looks forward to our (usually cold and snowy) visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens Blossoms of Light. We bring hot chocolate for the kids and marvel at the always-beautiful holiday light display.
My Holiday Tradition: Baking (of course.) The holiday season isn’t complete until cookies have been baked for my friends and family. Spending a weekend filling the house with the sweet smells of ginger, cinnamon, peppermint and chocolate, then delivering them across town (or country if I brave the Post Office early enough) brings joy to my heart and extra goodies to my loved ones. And anything that involves pounds and pounds of butter is ok by me!
My favorite holiday tradition is an antique bowl filled with fried chicken underneath the tree. Santa asked a very young and clueless me what I wanted for Christmas one year. All I could think of was, “A bowl of fried chicken ‘cuz my momma loves fried chicken!” Since then, every Christmas morning we eat fried chicken for breakfast along with some bubbly champagne for those old enough.
During the holiday season, my mom always puts a simmer pot on the stove. It fills the house with the warmest, most aromatic scent. The ingredients may change each year but they include some mix of cranberries, apples, oranges, rosemary and cinnamon. The smell always reminds me of Christmastime and home.
Coming from a large family, we took our stockings very seriously. My mother would hand-sew and personalize each one. She would also make homemade stockings for the occasional visitor so they would feel included. Our anticipation for the stockings exceeded any for the gifts under the tree. Dinner had to be finished, and dishes needed to be cleaned and put away before anyone could begin opening. It is a memory that all of us hold dear.
The ultimate highlight of our Christmas mornings? Hands-down, Dad’s genius move: Christmas brunch in full-on festive PJs! It is a non-negotiable rule—no PJs, no brunch! We’ve rocked this tradition for a solid 15 years, and let me tell you, it is the coziest, most ham-and-cheese-croissant-filled part of the season!
I received my first Christmas village house in 2011—Sowder’s Tree Stand. I’ve been hooked on it ever since. There’s just something so magical about miniature people, going about their tiny lives in festive homes with a perpetually cozy glow. Setting up the Christmas village every year (and arranging it differently every time!) is what really makes me feel like the holiday season has begun. And after I finish, my partner, Aaron, goes through with the cotton snow to make sure our village is all set for tiny ski season!
When I was a girl, I could spend hours marveling at the tiny holiday villages in department stores, imagining the lives of the little porcelain people who lived there. Now, my husband and I venture out each year to add to our own tiny village, which includes several small businesses (in pet portraits, Christmas trees, chestnuts and a pub) and residential homes. This year, our village ventured into the nonprofit sector by opening its first animal sanctuary!
When my mom retired, she, my sister and I traveled to Christmas markets in Paris, Budapest, Prague, Venice, Trier and Bratislava. Now, she visits me on Thanksgiving, and we put up the tree with ornaments from that trip and many others over the years – hand carved wood from India, blown glass from Italy, painted tile from Morocco and kitschy kiwis from New Zealand. We took a cooking class to learn to make traditional Christmas market dishes, and now chimney cakes (a cinnamon sugar dessert) are a holiday food tradition alongside buckeye candy and pierogis for Wigilia (Polish Christmas Eve).
No time to concoct complicated holiday drinks? This one’s for you. Made for a fun-filled day of work and play, us fortunate ones may find ourselves sipping on…
Bonus points for imbibing all three in any 24-hour period…happy trails!
Sometimes you need that extra shot of caffeine with your post-dinner cocktail. This is for those nights when you need to stay up extra late to wrap the last-minute gifts you never heard of, but your kid *just* asked Santa for…or when you need to find the energy to research what to do with that darned elf that you keep forgetting to move…or just to snuggle up and unwind with while you watch Christmas Vacation for the thousandth time. A “special” espresso is also a great morning drink to get through gift opening with the in-laws…Cheers!
This beverage tastes like the holidays in a glass and makes the house smell festive when you’re making the syrup!
Making it naughty?
Notes: If making it naughty: reduce 1/3 c pomegranate juice and omit ¼ c apple cider. Or don’t and it’s still good.
Cold winter nights accompanied by a warm cup of tea, a cozy blanket, and your favorite movie or TV show equals bliss!
Notes: Full fat coconut milk can be used for a richer flavor. I served mine with a cinnamon stick, but that is optional.
Warm, aromatic and perfect for sharing, this holiday bevvy invokes the memory of your most special holidays past.
Notes: This is not a fancy holiday party cocktail. Instead, a generous pour straight off the stove pairs best with your coziest fireside loungewear and deep belly laughs with your friends or family.
I love this recipe because it’s simple, takes no more than 20 minutes, and it reminds me of time spent with family. Plus, it’s incredibly versatile – it can be mixed with bourbon for a holiday evening treat or consumed by itself the next morning for a heavy breakfast before a day of spending time with loved ones.
The epitome of what you want in winter – either snuggled up with some twinkling lights and a roaring fire or walking around a Christmas market in the bitter cold – you need something to warm you up inside and out! Warning, may induce a fabulous fake French accent.
Notes: Also known as mulled wine, glögg, glühwein, spiced wine and hot wine. Who names something hot wine? Terrible branding there. Regardless, it’ll sneak up on you. If you suddenly have a beret on and accordion music seems like a good idea, have a glass of water before the next mug.
While the Aperol Spritz is a drink traditionally enjoyed in the summer months on the coast of Italy, who says you can’t enjoy a relaxing aperitif while the snow falls in December?
Notes: Pairs well with bite-sized snacks and a lazy afternoon spent on a patio in Sorrento.
No holiday celebration is complete without bubbles. But bubbles with a little danger and adventure…and maybe even a mask and cape? Now that’s a party I want to attend!
Notes: If all of this sounds too challenging, just grip the cork firmly with one hand, gently twist the bottle with the other hand to release the cork, pour and enjoy.
Although not the exact recipe, this is the only contribution I remember my grandpa making to the holiday meal. Everyone always looked forward to it, and it always looked so pretty!
It fills you with warmth and comfort. And as it is giving you a nice fuzzy cozy feeling, your sore throat might just fade away. Without this recipe in your repertoire, winter can be dreary and cold.
Festive for day or night!
It is not the holidays without this glass of cheer because the holidays are for snowy evenings, crackling fires, snoozing pups, mugs of tea and smoky whiskey drinks. This cocktail combines all of those feelings into one glass!
Spicy Ginger Honey Simple Syrup
Notes: Recipe from http://theadventuresofbobandshan.com/ulysses-left-on-ithaca-cocktail/
While we have a few good recipes that have found their way into our seasonal repertoire, this gimlet is my wife Suzy’s favorite. Cheers to another wonderful holiday season!
Notes: Depending on the size of your shaker, you may want to split into two rounds of shaking!
This is a Polish twist on the classic French 75. It’s bubbly, so it is appropriate to drink before noon on Christmas morning.
There are two things that are meant to be shaken and not stirred over the holidays: martinis and gifts.
Top the rim of this libation with a slight dusting of light pink sugar and garnish with iced, sugared cranberries and a rosemary sprig and I promise, it will impress even your weird Uncle this holiday season – if he’s invited.
Not your typical gin martini, this pomegranate martini is delightfully festive without being overly sweet.