Posts Tagged ‘christmas feast’

Christmas in Ireland

May 25, 2016

irish-christmas-cakeChristmas in Ireland, with all its religious overtones, is a time for family.  The religious nature of an Irish Christmas begins with Advent.  Starting four Sundays before Christmas Advent is a time to ponder the birth of Christ and get ready for the celebration of His birth.  It is a time for confession of sins and for expressing sorrow for wrongdoing.  One must be holy when expecting a holy Visitor.

Much must be done to prepare for Christmas.  Houses must have a thorough cleaning.  The grounds and all out-buildings get a good tidying also.  Christmas cards are sent to neighbors, friends, and family members.  Most of these cards have religious themes but Santa Claus, reindeer, and snowy landscapes may also be seen.

Christmas trees did not become a regular part of Christmas decorating until the 1960s.  Some people put their trees up the first week of December while others wait until Christmas Eve.  Electric lights, tinsel and a variety of purchased and homemade ornaments adorn each tree.

Even churches get in the spirit of the season by decorating the pillars and the altar with garlands of holly leaves.  A nativity scene is also part of every church’s display usually found near the altar, in the back of the church, or outside in front of the church.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve day final preparations are made for the Christmas celebration.  As expected, unmarried children, no matter their age or how far away they live, arrive at their parents’ house.  Most, if not all, Christmas shopping is done; but many shops stay open later than normal for those last-minute shoppers.  The house fills with glorious odors as food preparation begins in earnest.  The family goes through the house giving it a final tidying before the celebration begins.  Some of the more religious families fast on Christmas Eve until dinner when a simple meal of fish and potatoes is served.

Many families wait until Christmas Eve to put up their Christmas tree.  Candles are placed in the windows.  For many the Christmas season is about to begin, with the lighting of the candles.  Traditionally the main candle is lit by either the youngest child in the family or a daughter named Mary.  Some children hang their stockings before the family goes to Midnight Mass; others wait until after mass.  After returning from mass the children go to bed.  After the children fall asleep the parents place the children’s gifts under the tree or around the room often arranged in piles on chairs with the child’s name on the chair.

Christmas morning children awaken and rush to see what Santa Claus has left for them.  Most gifts are practical, but as Irish affluence increases the gifts become less practical.  Some who did not go to Midnight Mass, and some who did, attend “First Light” Mass at either 6:00 AM or 8:00 AM.  After mass the men and boys enjoy games of hurling (a game similar to field hockey), Gaelic football (a game like soccer), shooting competitions, and hunting rabbits with greyhounds.

The women prepare the Christmas feast and deliver gift baskets to less fortunate neighbors filled with the ingredients for a “proper” Christmas dinner.  The Christmas table is covered with a linen or lace tablecloth and set with the best china, polished silver, and cut-glass stemware.  The traditional Christmas dinner may consists of roast goose or turkey (often served with ham) stuffed potatoes heavily seasoned with black pepper, mashed or roasted potatoes with gravy, and one or two vegetable dishes.  Desserts may include Christmas cake, Christmas puddings such as bread pudding or plum pudding, mincemeat pies or tarts, sherry trifle, soda scones, fairy cake, and cookies.

After the Christmas feast families stay home relaxing, talking, singing and playing musical instruments, and telling stories.  Irish history was once passed from one generation to the next via stories told at family gatherings like Christmas.  Therefore, it is not surprising that some of these stories are of family ancestry, the famine, Irish heroes and villains, the countryside, as well as the Nativity.

Nollaig Shona Duit  (Merry Christmas!)

For more information about the Irish Christmas season visit CustomsOfChristmas.com.

Christmas Recipes from Ireland

February 25, 2016

I have been doing some reading on Christmas traditions from Ireland.  Here are some recipes that may be used in many Irish Christmas dinners.  Enjoy!

Christmas Roast Turkey with Sage and Onion Stuffing Recipe

Remove the turkey from the fridge several hours before cooking as it must be at room temperature before cooking to prevent the turkey drying out in the oven.

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1lb/450g pork sausage meat
  • 2 level tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 2 level tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 oz/25g fresh white breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 14lb/6.3kg oven-ready turkey
  • 4oz/110g soft butter
  • 8oz/225g streaky bacon, thinly sliced
  • 1¼ pints/1 liter poultry stock
  • 2 tbsp all purpose/plain flour
  • ¼ pint/150 ml Port
  • 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 280 minutes
  • Total Time: 325 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 8

Preparation

Heat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7

  • Prepare the stuffing: In a large bowl mix together the onion, pork sausage meat, herbs, breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Slip your fingers under the skin at the neck end and loosen to create a cavity over the breast. Stuff the neck end with the onion and sage stuffing up to the breast. Tuck the loose skin underneath and secure with a fine metal skewer.
  • Smear the soft butter evenly over the breast and legs of the turkey. Lay thin slices of bacon neatly across the breast and top surface of the legs. Sprinkle the whole turkey liberally with salt and pepper.
  • Lay two large sheets of aluminum foil over a roasting tin large enough to hold the bird. Place the bird back down and fold the foil loosely over the bird leaving a roomy gap between the bird and the foil to allow steam to escape.
  • Roast in the preheated oven for 40 minutes then lower the temperature to 325°F/160°C/Gas 3 and cook for 3½ hours basting from time to time.
  • Remove the turkey from the oven, raise the temperature to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7. Fold back the foil on the turkey, remove the bacon and pour any juices into a jug or bowl. Return the turkey to the oven and cook for a further 30 mins to crisp the skin.
  • Remove from the oven and check the temperature with a meat thermometer placed into the thickest past of the thigh, the turkey is cooked if the temperature is 175°F/80°C. If you don’t have a thermometer the turkey is cooked if the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a small sharp knife. If the juices are pink return to the oven and cook until they run clear. When cooked, leave the turkey to rest for 30 minutes wrapped loosely with fresh foil before carving. Meanwhile make the gravy.
  • Pour all the juices from the roasting tin into the bowl or jug with the juices saved from the foil. Spoon off all the fat which will float to the surface and discard. Place the roasting tin on a high heat on the stove top, add the flour and stir to scrape up all the sediment from the tin. Cook for one minute. Pour in the port and stir well then add the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the turkey juices, bring back to the boil and cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the redcurrant jelly stir until dissolved then strain into a gravy boat or serving jug.

Irish Christmas Cake

Ingredients
* 2 c. butter
* 2 c. sugar
* 8 well-beaten large eggs
* 1/2 c. brandy, optional
* 1 tbsp. rose water, optional
* 1 tsp orange extract
* 4 c. flour
* 2 tsp ground allspice
* 1 tsp salt
* 1/2 c. ground almonds
* 3/4 c. whole almonds
* 1 pkt (15-ounce.) raisins
* 3 c. currants
* 3/4 c. candied cherries
* 1/4 c. minced lemon peel
* 1/2 c. minced orange peel (candied peels)

Directions
* Cream butter and sugar; add in Large eggs, brandy, rose water and orange extract and beat till fluffy. Sift flour, all spice and salt. Stir in ground almonds and stir flour mix into creamed mix. Stir in whole almonds, fruits and peels. Grease a 19-inch springform (tube-type) pan and place on baking sheet. Pour batter into pan and bake at 300 degrees for 2 to 2 1/2 hrs.

* Cold in pan on rack. Remove sides from pan and cold cake on rack. Frost with almond paste as follows. Place of an 8-ounce. can of almond paste in layers of waxed paper and roll to 1/8- inch thick. Press pcs against side of half the cake, repeat with second half of can. Roll another 8-ounce. can of almond paste to a 10-inch circle, 1/8-inch thick, cut center away and place circle on top of cake. pat sides and top together. Finally, frost with Royal Icing. Make icing by combining 2 egg whites at room temperature, a lb. package of powdered sugar,1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a small mixer bowl. Beat till very stiff.  Frost cake immediately because frosting gets very hard. Wrap cake well in tightly covered wrapping or possibly in container.

View this recipe online at http://cookeatshare.com/recipes/irish-christmas-cake-306703?ref=mail

First and Second Christmas Day in the Netherlands

August 24, 2015

On Christmas morning in the Netherlandsoliebollen many families attend church services especially if they did not attend the previous night.  After church services they return home for Koffietafel, coffee table, an elaborate brunch consisting of such things as smoked salmon or pate and Kerstkrans (a pastry similar to Banketletter shaped like a large wreath decorated with lemon icing, candied fruit, holly, and a red bow).  Families in most areas do not exchange gifts on Christmas day; but for those families who do, especially in the southern regions, Father Christmas brings the gifts.

Because Christmas day is a holiday of family togetherness, many families will either visit the homes of family and friends or entertain family and friends at their homes.  They will talk, play board games, listen to the radio or other recordings, watch television, attend concerts or ballets, and sing and play Christmas carols.  Throughout the day they will snack on Kerstbrood, a sweet bread filled with raisins, currants, and candied fruit peel then dusted with powdered sugar.  If the weather is cold enough during the month of December the family will go to the rivers and canals to enjoy some ice skating.

At approximately 7:00 P.M. Christmas dinner is served.  Poinsettias, holly, fresh flowers, and other Christmas greenery may decorate the table.  In many families either the youngest person or the oldest person at the table reads the Christmas story from the Bible before the meal begins.  The meal may begin with Bitterballen (small croquettes of finely minced veal or beef in an herb-laced gelatin), cocktail meatballs, Zoute Bolletjes or salted bullets (salty dabs of pastry baked to a fine crunch), Groentensoep (vegetable soup), Erwtensoep (pea soup) sometimes served with little fried meatballs, Mossel-Rijstschotel (and Indonesian-style casserole of mussels over cream-smothered rice), Haringsla (herring salad), and Matjes (salted herring).

The main course may consist of rolled beef, roast hare, roast goose, or roast venison.  Turkey is gaining popularity on the Christmas table.  Pureed potatoes seasoned with a variety of spices is also a popular item.  In many homes the Christmas dinner is served using a table-top grill.  Each guest cooks their own bite-sized pieces of meat and vegetables as they eat.  Popular Christmas desserts in the Netherlands are Bessensappudding (tart currant pudding), cookies, and chocolates.

The people of the Netherlands also celebrate Second Christmas Day, December 26.  This is a day to reach out to friends and do things outside the home.  Many people attend performances both professional and amateur at churches, concert halls, and auditoriums.  These performances may be choral, instrumental, or theatrical in nature.  Churches and schools offer choral presentations and Christmas plays often depicting the story of the Nativity.  Families living in and around Rotterdam may attend the Ahoy Kerstcircus (Christmas circus) featuring a live band, aerial acts, animal acts, and clowns.  This circus has performed annually since 1917.

—————————————————————————————————————–

Oliebollen  (I would love to try these.  They sound good.)

SERVINGS 36

PREP TIME 20 mins  

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped apple (optional)
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Cooking oil for deep-fat frying
  • Sifted powdered sugar

Directions

1.  In a large bowl, stir together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt; stir in the raisins and, if you like, apple. Make a well in the center. Combine eggs, milk, the 1/4 cup cooking oil, and the vanilla; add to flour mixture. Mix thoroughly.

2.  In a large saucepan or deep-fat fryer, drop by tablespoons, 3 or 4 at a time, into deep, hot oil (365 degree F). Cook about 3 minutes or until golden, turning once. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes about 36.

 

Christmas in Mexico

February 24, 2015

Las Posada lead by children dressed as Mary and Joseph.The Christmas season in Mexico lasts about two months and is filled with traditions that have lasted, in some cases, for nearly five hundred years.

Christmas was brought to Mexico by Catholic missionaries who brought the Christian faith to the natives of Mexico after it was discovered by Spanish explorers in the 16th century.  In 1538 Fray Pedro de Gante invited all the Indians within twenty leagues of Mexico City to attend the first Christmas celebration.  These Christmas masses and the parties and feasting that surrounded the celebration became so popular that Fray Diego de Soria in 1587 received permission to hold the Christmas masses out of doors.  These outdoor Christmas masses were held nightly from December 16 to 24.  As time went on the natives of that area added their own touches to the Christmas celebrations and art to make Mexico’s Christmas celebration what it is today.

On or around December 16 families all over Mexico put up their nacimientos or nativity scenes.  This is also the first of nine nights of posadas.  The last night of posadas followed by a special midnight Mass occurs on December 24.  After Mass finishes on the 25th of December families return home to a Christmas feast of turkey, tortillas, fried peppers, vegetables, fruits, candies, hot chocolate with vanilla and cinnamon, and a Christmas salad of fruit, nuts, beets, and sugar cane sprinkled with tiny colored candies.  Other food items may be served as well or in place of these items as desired by the family.  Children may get small gifts at this time, but they usually do not receive gifts until January 6.  December 28 is El Dia de los Inocentes or Day of the Innocents.  On this day children play tricks on their friends much like children do in the United States on April Fool’s Day.  The people of Mexico welcome the new year with parties, fireworks, and lots of noise, games, and food.  January 6 is El Dia de los Reys, the Day of the Three Kings or Epiphany.  Children receive their gifts from the Magi, not Santa Claus, on this day.  During the parties and feasting on this day a cake called La Rosca de Reyes or King’s Ring Cake is served.  Baked in this cake is a small Christ Child doll.  The finder of this doll has to host a party on February 2.  February 2 is the last day of the Christmas season.  Known as El Dis de la Candelaria or Candlemas, the day is filled with huge fireworks and partying.  Each family takes the Christ Child from their nacimiento to the priest to be blessed before packing the nacimiento away for another year.

Read more about Christmas in Mexico including some very unique customs here at CustomsOfChristmas.com.


As we are now in the middle of the Easter season visit our sister site CustomsOfEaster.com to explore the origins of many of our customs of Easter.

Have a debt-free, stress-free Christmas

October 24, 2014

It is that time of year again where thoughts are turning to Christmas. What presents do the children want?  Who sent us cards or gave us gifts that we should reciprocate this year?  How much will it cost?  I just finished paying for last Christmas!

How many times have we approached the Christmas holidays with intentions of not over spending only to succumb to advertisements shouting, “Spend, spend, spend!” What can we do to stop, or at least minimize, this emphasis on breaking the bank?

The primary way to keep from going overboard this Christmas is to set up a budget and stick to it.

Set up a category in your Christmas budget for gifts. Include every person you plan to give a gift and the maximum amount you wish to spend.  Then make a game of it.  See how many people you can go under budget in your Christmas shopping.

Do not forget to budget for incidentals like wrapping paper, tape, stamps, and cards. Things like these can sneak up on you and break the bank before you know it.

Another big item to put in your Christmas budget is food. Include everything you need for your Christmas baking: flour, sugar, baking chips, etc.  Add everything you expect to serve for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  If your family is like mine you will have foods, rich foods, which you would not normally have so it is best to budget for them so you are sure to have the money to pay for them without going deeper into debt.

Setting up a Christmas budget will help keep you from over spending this Christmas. Be sure you budget for every little thing you can think of.  You may even include a miscellaneous category to cover anything you forgot.

Have yourself a carefree little Christmas without all the worries that over spending can bring throughout the new year.

 


Our family likes to start off Christmas day with a breakfast casserole like the one below. Since this is not a usual breakfast fare we need to make sure our budget has the money for the ingredients we do not have on hand.

Sausage Breakfast Casserole
6 slices bread
Butter or margarine
1 lb bulk pork sausage
1 ½ cup (6 oz) shredded Longhorn or mild Cheddar cheese
6 eggs, beaten
2 cups half and half
1 tsp salt

Spread butter over bread slices; place in a greased 13x9x2-inch
baking dish; set aside.

Cook sausage until browned, stirring to crumble; drain well.

Spoon over bread slices; sprinkle with cheese. Combine eggs, half
and half, and salt; mix well and pour over cheese. Cover casserole
and chill overnight.

Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before baking.

 

We like trying new recipes at Christmas time. This recipe turned out to be a great variation on the traditional pumpkin pie.

Double Layer Pumpkin Pie
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup + 1 tbsp cold milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 tub (8 oz.) whipped topping, thawed
1 prepared graham cracker crumb crust (6 oz.)
1 can (16 oz.) pumpkin
2 pkg (4-serving size) vanilla flavor instant pudding
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves

In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, 1 tbsp milk and sugar with wire
whisk until smooth. Gently stir in 1 ½ cups whipped topping. Spread
on bottom of crust.

In a second bowl, stir pumpkin, pudding mix, and spices into remaining
milk. Beat with wire whisk until well blended. (Mixture will be thick.)
Spread over cream cheese layer.

Refrigerate 4 hours. Serve with remaining whipped topping. Makes 8 servings.

Spritz cookies are easy to make with many variations. A single batch can make several dozen cookies.  Here is a basic spritz cookie recipe with some variations to try.

Basic Spritz Cookies
½ cup butter or margarine, softened
¼ cup vegetable shortening
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

Place butter and shortening in large mixing bowl. Cream together
on medium-high speed. Add sugar gradually. Beat until light and
fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg and vanilla. Mix well using
medium speed.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in separate bowl. Add to
butter/sugar mixture in three additions, mixing well after each
addition. Dough will be stiff.

Assemble and fill cookie press with desired disc. Press cookies on
ungreased, uncoated baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to
12 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Do not overbake.
Makes 6 to 7 dozen.

Variations:
Chocolate-Almond: Decrease vanilla to 1 teaspoon; add 1 teaspoon
almond extract and 3 tablespoons cocoa.

Egg Nog: Add ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg to flour.

Orange: Substitute 2 teaspoons orange extract for vanilla; add 1
teaspoon finely grated orange peel.

Raspberry-Nut: Substitute 1 ½ teaspoons coconut extract for vanilla;
2 tablespoons seedless red raspberry jam. Sprinkle with chopped nuts
before baking.

Christmas in France

July 25, 2014

Christmas-in-france-eiffel-tower

Christmas market in front of the Eiffel Tower

The Christmas season in France begins on December 6 with St. Nicholas Day and continues through January 6 or Epiphany. In eastern France children receive gifts of candy, fruit, and small toys from the good saint. Some of these children hit the jackpot receiving gifts on both St. Nicholas Day and Christmas day. For the religious people in France the Christmas season begins on the first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas.

Houses are given a thorough cleaning. Floors are swept. Furniture is dusted and waxed. The silver is polished to a bright sheen, and the finest china is brought out to grace the Christmas board. After that the house is filled with the glorious sounds and aromas of Christmas cooking and baking.

In nearly every house a manger scene is lovingly brought out of storage and given a place of prominence in the living room. The manger scene first appeared in Avignon between 1316 and 1334 B.C. but did not become popular until the 16th century. Legend says that ancestors of St. Francis of Assisi brought the tradition with them to France. Many families have figures that have been handed down from generation to generation and may be a hundred years old or more. These scenes may be simple scenes with just the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and a few animals; or they may be very elaborate forming a complete village with many figures called santons, little saints, representing Bible characters and villagers seen in everyday life, such as a mayor, priest, policeman, butcher, and baker. Many families purchase new santons to add to their nativity scene every year at a local store or outdoor Christmas market. Even children get involved gathering moss, stones, and twigs to be included in the scenery.

At midnight Christmas Eve adults and older children attend midnight masses at beautifully decorated churches and cathedrals where joyful choirs and peeling bells welcome Christmas Day. Younger children, instead of attending mass, are sleeping dreaming of the presents they will receive in the morning.

After midnight mass families return home or visit a restaurant to enjoy a feast known as le reveillon. The foods served for le reveillon vary according to the region. Served in many courses, the meal may include such meats as roast beef, leg of lamb, goose, chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, quail, grouse, and baked ham. Wild boar and venison are considered delicacies for this Christmas meal. The fish course may include all kinds of fresh water fish, oysters, snails, sea urchins, shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster. One region of France makes buckwheat cakes served with sour cream a must-have dish for their reveillon. Salads and fruit such as oranges, apples, bananas, pears, grapes, tangerines, and plums are enjoyed by celebrants as well as all kinds of bread. Cheeses of all shapes and sizes and an assortment of pates made with goose, duck, or rabbit liver which may be mixed with minced ham or pork are integrated into this extensive meal. Wait! The meal is not finished yet. There is still dessert. Boxes of chocolates, hard candies, candied fruit, and other pastries like tartes, pies, tartlets, petit fours, napoleons, éclairs grace the table accompanying the piece de resistance, the buche de Noel or Yule Log cake. This sponge cake is rolled with a chocolate butter cream filling and frosted with a brown icing. It is often marked with lines to make it look like a log. It may also be decorated with confectioners’ sugar, nuts, images of Pere Noel, roses, sugar or real, elves, or sprigs of fresh holly. Wine and/or champaign also accompanies the meal.

For more about Christmas in France and other Christmas customs please visit my website, http://www.customsofchristmas.com.

How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted – part 8

October 26, 2013

A Simple Christmas

Think about your dream Christmas, your ideal Christmas celebration. Don’t worry about lack of money or lack of talent. Just imagine what you would do, where you would go, how you would celebrate your perfect Christmas. Most people’s ideal Christmas has four characteristics. It is simple, not elaborate. It is not expensive. Everyone gets along with each other; and the celebration is relaxing, not stressful.

Why don’t we have our fantasy Christmas every year? There’s two reasons. One, most fantasies involve a little magic. We don’t have an unlimited amount of money to spend on decorations or gifts or entertainment. We also don’t have an unlimited about of talent to create the all around perfect Christmas. Two, life’s unpleasant realities are filtered out of our fantasies. The teenagers aren’t so cooperative and interactive. Uncle George doesn’t lay of the alcohol. Mom spends all her time in the kitchen preparing the meal and cleaning up after everyone with little if any help.

Those aren’t the only deterrents to the simple Christmas. Look at all the television ads, the women’s magazines, and television shows aimed at homemakers. They persuade people to make their Christmas as elaborate, as expensive, and as busy as possible. Another deterrent is people’s aversion to change. They want to have the same Christmas they had last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. They have traditions and rituals that they want to keep even though the traditions make Christmas more complicated. Also Christmas makes people nostalgic. They want to enjoy the same activities they participated in as children and share those activities with their children. Family obligations are a third deterrent to a simple Christmas. It can be hard to plan around a bed-ridden family member who relies on you for all their needs.

The following exercise will allow you to examine your fantasy Christmas and help you see what aspects of it you can incorporate into your Christmas celebration.

Exercise: A Christmas Fantasy
The following fantasy exercise will give you a clearer idea of what you are really looking for in Christmas. When you are through reading these
instructions, close you eyes and imagine Christmas two years from now. We have chosen this length of time because it’s far enough away to give you some distance from your current celebration, but not so far away that a lot of your circumstances will have changed.

When you are ready to begin, choose a quiet location where you won’t be interrupted for ten or fifteen minutes. Imagine any kind of Christmas you wish as long as it is deeply satisfying. You can confine your fantasy to Christmas proper, or include the whole season. It may be very much like you present celebration or entirely different. You can magically include your favorite friends and relatives and make them behave any way you wish. You can celebrate in any setting. You don’t have to keep a single traditional Christmas activity, or you can keep them all. This will be Christmas the way you have always wanted it to be.

As you begin to fantasize, there will probably be a jumble of possibilities competing for your attention. If you find yourself with multiple fantasies, keep returning to the ideas that make you feel most satisfied.

Once you have settled on a particular fantasy, stick with it until you have enriched it with lots of details. Imagine the physical setting, the activities, how you are feeling, and how other people are feeling. What kind of food is there? How was it made? Are there any gifts? What are they like?

When you have completed your fantasy, write it down on a separate sheet (or sheets) of paper. Feel free to elaborate as you write. Then answer these questions:

1. Of all the ways your fantasy was different from your usual celebration, which difference was most satisfying to you?
2. Which parts (if any) of your fantasy would be most feasible to actually do next Christmas?

The Christmas Pledge

Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, I commit myself to the following:
1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family
4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends

The material presented here was taken from the book Unplug The Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli published by William Morrow and Company, Inc.

How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted – part 5

September 25, 2013

The Christmas Family Reunion

Picture this. The house is brightly decorated with greens and candles. There’s a fire in the fireplace. The kids are playing with their gifts in front of the tree ornamented with lights, tinsel, and all sorts of bright baubles. Christmas carols are playing in the background. Laughter is heard as the adults relax and get caught up with each other. Every room is perfumed by the wonderful food that was the Christmas feast. Sound like your Christmas family reunion? Probably not.

There is so much that has to be done before the gathering. The hostess has to clean and decorate the house, plan the menus, buy all the food, and coordinate schedules. The guests have to buy and gather gifts, make arrangements for pets, make financial and travel arrangements, pack, stop mail and other deliveries, and secure the house.

Then comes the gathering. The house is rarely big enough for everyone attending so inconveniences are sure to crop up. The hot water runs out before the showers are finished. There’s always a line for the bathroom. The children are noisy. Some people stay up too late, while others get up too early. And the kitchen seems to always need cleaning. How people react to each other during these inconveniences determine whether the celebrations goes well or not.

People expect the Christmas celebration to bring everyone closer together. They fail to realize, however, that no family reunion is perfect. Everyone brings baggage to the reunion, family squabbles, neighborhood spats, and even office politics. If this baggage isn’t checked at the door, tensions at the gathering may run high.

Non-traditional families have other issues. Singles, because of movies, television, cards, and their own ideal Christmas, see Christmas as a time for couples or families to be together. Single parents face Christmas with a missing partner; their children missing a father, or mother.

How can we survive the Christmas homecoming? Concentrate on the people and the celebration, and you’ll find your enjoyment of the celebration enhanced. You can also anticipate as many problems as possible and take steps to deal with them before they occur. The exercises below will help you prepare for this year’s Christmas family reunion.

Exercise 1: The Perfect-Family Syndrome
No family is perfect, but if you can accept your family as it really is, you’re going to have a more enjoyable celebration. This first exercise helps you take a look at your family members and explore your hidden expectations for them.

1. In the space below, write down the names of family members that you have complicated or mixed feelings about. Leave a blank space after each name.

2. After each name, write down something that troubles or disappoints you about that person. Here’s an example. Mary did this exercise and made the following comments about her family members:
Person What I don’t like
Dad Drinks too much
Mom Too uptight and busy
Louise Overly talkative
Mark Too withdrawn

3. If you have little reason to believe that people are going to change the characteristics that bother you, look again at each person’s name and tell yourself, “I accept the fact that this person will probably . . . ” filling in the way that person will most likely behave.

Mary did this part of the exercise and told herself that she would try to accept the fact that her father often drank too much at Christmas. She realized that her mother chose to be so busy and that, even though any number of people offered to help her, she was running the show. Her sister Louise had always talked too much and always would. And her brother Mark often backed away from the family, probably for the very reasons that she did. While she experienced some disappointment in realizing these things about her family, she felt clearheaded about what the visit would be like.

4. Now think of one thing that you especially like about each of the people on your list. Write those desirable qualities down by their names.

Exercise 2: Family Strengths

When people are able to focus on their family strengths and not dwell on their weaknesses throughout the holiday season, they find that Christmas is many times more enjoyable. Whether you have specific family problems or not, this exercise will make you more aware of your family’s strong points.

Read the following statements. When a statement is a great family strength, mark it with a star. If it is a lesser strength, mark it with a check. Leave it blank if it does not describe your family at all.

We have common spiritual beliefs or accept each other’s different beliefs.
We know how to have fun together.
For the most part, we communicate with each other well.
We openly express our love and affection.
We have similar life-styles and values or accept each other’s differences.
We do not have serious money problems.
We have common Christmas traditions or make a special effort to respect our differences.
We have compatible styles of child-rearing.
We don’t have serious alcohol problems.
Other.
(If you have few positive responses, make a special effort to fill in the “other” category.)

The Christmas Pledge

Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, I commit myself to the following:
1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family
4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends

The material presented here was taken from the book Unplug The Christmas Machine
by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli published by William Morrow and
Company, Inc.

How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted – part 2

August 25, 2013

Women – the Christmas logistician

In many homes across America, preparations for the Christmas celebration are
carried out by the women. They decide what decorations go up, where the
decorations go up, and when the decorations go up. And if they don’t have the
decorations they want, they buy them or, better yet, make the decorations
themselves. They plan the Christmas feast. They spend long hours shopping for
just the right gift for everyone on the Christmas list. They clean the house
and prepare the guest room for the Christmas family get together. They help
with the church Christmas program and prepare for the neighborhood Christmas
party. Sound busy yet? When you add all this extra work to the busyness of the
everyday job and housework, it’s no wonder many women feel so stressed out and
tired at Christmas. They feel tired and yet happy too. They love making
Christmas special for their loved ones and gladly make the sacrifice.

What women don’t realize is that this added stress and busyness of the Christmas
season builds up and can burn them out. Christmas becomes a chore, no longer
enjoyable. They dread each Christmas season and can’t wait until it’s over.

Women have a great capacity to love. Into each facet of the Christmas
celebration they add their special touch of love, Many pour so much love and
concern into the celebration and into their families who don’t always show
appreciation for what they do that they figure why bother. Just like
rechargeable batteries need to be recharged when they run down women need their
love batteries recharged, something many women don’t take time to have done.

Some women strive to give their families the perfect Christmas. They scour the
Christmas magazines in store checkout lanes looking for the perfect theme for
decorating their house. Or they remember childhood Christmases and try to
reproduce them. Or they come up with their own ideal Christmas and try to come
as close to that ideal as they possibly can. And each year their anxiety level
climbs as they look around and feel that all their efforts fall short of what
Christmas should be.

Following this are some exercises that each woman should complete to discover
what, if any, changes should be made to make Christmas more enjoyable for the
family and less stressful overall. These exercises are taken from the book
Unplug The Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli.

Exercise 1: Life-style Inventory
Many women overestimate the time they have available for holiday projects. Take
the following life-style inventory to get a sense of how busy you are before you
add on the responsibilities of Christmas.

1. Check all the following statements that are true for you:
I’m employed full-time.
I’m employed part-time.
I have young children who are not yet in school or daycare.
I have children in school or daycare.
I’m a student.
I’m a single parent.
I have extended-family obligations.
I am primarily responsible for managing the household.
I have the following additional commitments:
Church
School
Volunteer work (boards, charities, committees, etc.)
Children’s activities
Classes
Other

2. As a general rule I can count on _____ hours of free time a day.

3. I usually spend those unscheduled hours in the following ways:

4. To find time to prepare for Christmas I usually take time from:

Exercise 2: Examining the Work of Christmas
This exercise will help you gain a more objective view of all the holiday
responsibilities you may be adding to your everyday schedule.

1. Look at the following list of typical holiday responsibilities and place a
check by the ones that you were primarily responsible for last year.
Making up a gift list Getting the tree
Christmas shopping Decorating the tree
Making gifts Outside decorations
Wrapping gifts Hosting parties
Mailing gifts Preparing company meals
Writing cards Helping with school activities
Making cards Planning family gatherings
Helping out at church Making Christmas dinner
Holiday baking Extra grocery shopping
Home decorations Making travel arrangements
Sewing clothes Packing
Special holiday cleaning Preparing for houseguests
Advent preparations Other

2. Add any tasks that we have overlooked.

3. Spend some time remembering how you felt last Christmas as you were doing
each of the chores that you checked. Put a star by the ones that you actually
enjoyed.

4. Take a piece of paper and write down the tasks from the above list that you
did not enjoy doing last year. Beside each one, write down a few words that
describe the reason(s) for your dissatisfaction. Here are some common reasons:
Not enough time
Not enough money
Not enough family support
Not enough help
Don’t enjoy this kind of activity
Don’t value this kind of activity
My performance didn’t measure up to my expectations
Wasn’t creative enough

Completing these exercises should give you a better idea of how much time you
have available for holiday projects, how much you attempt to do each Christmas,
and how you feel about those tasks.

The Christmas Pledge

Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, I commit myself to the
following:
1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family
4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends

The material presented here was taken from the book Unplug The Christmas Machine
by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli published by William Morrow and
Company, Inc.

The origin of Christmas gift giving

March 24, 2013

The first gifts given to honor the birth of the Christ child came from a group of men called wise men or magi. The Bible does not tell us how many wise men there were. Most people assume there were three because of the three gifts mentioned, but there could have been more. These gifts were expensive and reflected the wise men’s perception of Jesus’ station in life. But those gifts were not the first Christmas gifts. The first Christmas gift came from God Himself. This is the origin of Christmas gift giving: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Gifts had been exchanged during the midwinter season for many years before Christ was born. The Romans are credited with starting the custom of giving gifts during their midwinter festivals. The first festival, Saturnalia, occurred in mid to late December. Gifts of wax candles, wax fruit, and clay dolls were exchanged between social peers. Gifts and good wishes were given to friends and family during the New Year festival Kalends.

As the Roman empire grew gift giving spread throughout Europe. As time went on the celebration of Saturnalia died out but gift giving during the New Year’s celebration continued. In many places, like England, gift giving was reserved for those within the social hierarchy. Peasants gave gifts of farm produce to their lord who then provided a Christmas feast. Nobles gave gifts to the king and queen who also gave gifts to their court. This practice occurred not on Christmas day but on New Year’s day. It was still considered to be a part of the Christmas because the Christmas season, during the medieval period lasted for twelve days. There is no record of gift giving between friends or family members during this time.

The first recorded occurrence of Christmas gift giving between family and friends comes from 16th century Germany. Children received “Christ-bundles” consisting of coins, sugarplums, nuts, apples, dolls, clothing, school books, religious books, or writing materials. Parents told their children that the Christkind, or Christ child, brought their gifts. Through the 17th and 18th centuries the tradition spread throughout Europe and England. Popular gifts included food items, warm clothing, accessories, jewelry, pens, watches, and books for children.

Eventually, by early 19th century, New Year’s gift giving was absorbed by Christmas gift giving. Partly this was due to the number of days within the Christmas season where gifts were exchanged. Some European countries honored St. Nicholas, patron saint of children, on his day by giving gifts to children, a practice that some say was started by nuns in central France who left packages of nuts, oranges, and other “good things to eat” on the doorsteps of poor families with children on St. Nicholas’s eve. Others exchanged gifts on St. Martin’s (Martinmas) eve in honor of the saint’s practice of riding through the countryside giving treats to children. And still others exchanged gifts on St. Stephen’s Day. On this day during the Middle Ages parish priests opened up church alms boxes and distributed the coins found inside to the needy. This practice grew to include boxed gifts of food, money, and clothing given by the affluent in society to those in the working class who served them in some fashion during the year. St. Stephen’s Day soon lost its identity to these gift boxes and became Boxing Day.

The custom of exchanging gifts between friends and family members became widespread during the 19th century. This was aided by the spread of the German Christmas tree as the repository for Christmas gifts and the popularity of Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas, as the giver of Christmas gifts.

Today people all over the world spend billions of dollars every year for Christmas gifts. For some Christmas gift giving is a bother trying to out-give one another, remembering everyone from whom a gift may be received, or facing the high cost of the Christmas season. For others Christmas gift giving is a joy a chance to express appreciation and love to others, a chance to give of oneself to those who cannot give back, and a time to honor the One whose birthday is being celebrated. Which group do you belong? I hope it is the latter.

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