An Old-Fashioned Christmas: Sweet Traditions for Hearth and Home

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You may be wondering why on earth I would write a blog post about Christmas in January. I myself wondered if it was a crazy thing to do, but I think if you hear me out, you’ll agree that it makes total sense.

I happened upon this book as I perused Amazon’s list of new releases in cookbooks, which is a fun way to stay up-to-date on all things food. I was surprised to see this title among mostly diet-themed, something-free books. An Old-Fashioned Christmas stood out as a pleasantly unmodern topic. I would expect this from a 1990’s Southern Living style recipe collection, but my interest was piqued by such a book being published in 2015. I was not disappointed.

The author, Ellen Stimson is undoubtedly and wholeheartedly committed to and obsessed with Christmas. From the first page she made me a tad jealous of her picturesque Vermont abode. What I love though, is that she presents that Charles Dickens, rose-colored Christmas as a real, attainable thing. It’s not about having things, it’s about treasuring traditions, heritage, and family—or creating the traditions that make up the Christmas legacy you want to pass on. She rightly observes, “Women have always been the keepers of Christmas. We are the ones who make it all happen.” Stimson brings warming stories of her childhood memories in the beauty shop, swapping recipes and gossip with her mother’s friends (picture Steel Magnolias movie), but many of her recipes (such as the bread and nut roll) and techniques were adopted from her husband’s Slovak grandmother, Margaret.

The unifying thread throughout the book is the importance of the memories that are embedded in traditions. Some people may not have to look far for rich family traditions to pick up and pass on, while others might want to begin now, planning the recipes and events that will become customary and special with each passing year. Stimson made me realize that it is up to me to decide how Christmas will “feel.” I have always wanted that slow, picturesque, Victorian-styled Christmas, but it seemed so out of reach.

Reading An Old Fashioned Christmas made me realize that creating an atmosphere which gives birth to treasured memories takes forethought and time— forethought to conceptualize what kind of Christmas you want to create, and time to execute that concept and allow it to mature into tradition.

That is why posting this in January suddenly made sense to me. The traditions that Ellen Stimson enjoys each year (and makes me want to partake in) require planning, effort and love. She leaves no doubt in my mind that it is totally worth it. Even she admits that some years, in the craziness of life, shortcuts happen, but it’s the craziness that makes you truly appreciate the slow, sweet savoring of Christmas as often as life allows.

This book inspired me to contemplate what kinds of traditions and memories I want to pass on to my children and grandchildren. What sort of Christmas legacy do I want to leave? When I think of it that way, the once daunting idea of homemade cinnamon rolls seems like a worthy investment of my time. As I read Stimson’s account of her getting up in the middle of the night some Christmas Eves, after “too many winter wines have sent [her] to bed too early to knead and bake” the highly anticipated nut roll, I realized that it is partly the effort that makes some traditions so treasured.

Florida isn’t exactly the “white Christmas” ideal, so it can be hard to get in the holiday spirit. But perhaps if I begin thinking of Christmas as more than decor or temperature, but as an inheritance in the making, then I won’t be so focused on the tropical setting spoiling my holiday mood because I’ll be creating traditions that will be carried on in future homes and other temperatures when I am old and wrinkly. It doesn’t really matter if my daughter first learns to make homemade cinnamon rolls in a 90 degree Florida kitchen because chances are she’ll teach her daughter in another kitchen, and the thing that will make them special is not that it might be snowing outside, but that each bite ushers in a sweet memory of love and family.

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A few recipes from An Old Fashioned Christmas, which I look forward to trying:

  • Grandma Dorothy’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever
  • Todd and Natascha’s Friend Amy’s Christmas Hot Buttered Rum
  • Coffee Cream Puffs
  • Candied Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts
  • Grandma Rimarchik’s Slovak Nut Roll

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