What would a family holiday be like without a family tradition? Just make sure the tradition serves you and what your family values.
My Swedish grandfather determined the family tradition. To be honest, when you attend a Christmas season event hosted by the Swedish-American community, you’d think they’d invented the holiday. The traditions are lovely – Advent is observed and the season is filled with reminders of light, family, generosity, and great food. The tradition of Lucia Day is particularly stirring to young children.
My Ukrainian grandmother adopted the Swedish holiday traditions. She made the best pepparkakor (Swedish ginger snaps). The story was that my grandfather’s family had a bakery in Stockholm and their pepparkarkor had a gold seal of approval from the King of Sweden.
I have no idea if this is true, but if you fill out the form below to get Grammy Jo’s pepparkakor recipe.
My grandmother also came from a tradition of presenting a full table for guests. It had to be made from scratch and you had to make enough. And enough meant there would be leftovers for a family of 5 for a week.
To make a sumptuous meal is a creative process with the addition of managerial skills that would daunt an MBA. Then there is making it all look as if you didn’t fuss. So the onus of carrying on this accomplishment in my family fell to me – the oldest granddaughter and the only daughter in my family.
A few years ago, we started a new tradition: my home became where the family goes for the holiday dinner. We long left the Scandinavian tradition of having a full-out Christmas Eve party. As an aside, it is a lovely tradition that goes back to the days before the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar wrote in his diaries that the people of the north – the Scandinavians and the Celts – begin their celebrations in the evening. When you live so far north, I suppose you want to make peace with the darkness.
I have thoroughly enjoyed putting together these festive meals, trying out new recipes, savoring the old treasures.
But this year, my daughter is out of college and living about 3 hours away. It’s a big transitional year for her and she’s figuring out what the next steps will be for her. She is paying all her bills on her own by working a frenetic server job. She could use a break and since we missed her at Thanksgiving, the family craves time with her.
…this proud mom has to kvell for a moment: She was a year younger than other members of her class, graduating with honors in philosophy, and winning the college’s philosophy award. On commencement day there wasn’t an event that didn’t feature her singing a solo or leading others in song. It was a testimony to our family values of learning and following your true nature.
Sometimes deciding next steps are more difficult when there is so much potential.
Back to Christmas 2015. Even though she requested to have the 24th off at from the restaurant’s manager, she was told that she probably won’t get it off. The 25th for sure, but not the days preceding that.
So there were options to weigh. Train? Plane? Can one even get tickets at this late date? Would the price be prohibitive? How safe would travel be? After weighing all the possibilities, it was decided the simplest solution was to make the 6 plus hour drive on the 24th so she would be home with the family on Christmas Day.
But what about the long-time family tradition of the groaning board? Sure I could do that, spend several days before the 25th preparing everything so that it would just be heated up and served on Christmas Day. Add to that cleaning, decorating….my head hurts thinking about it. I already feel exhausted.
Something had to give and that was the tradition of the mega meal cooked from scratch. I’m passing that task on to the local Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s freezer. Thank you. Done.
The end – breaking bread with loved ones, what our familiy truly values – should not be confused with the means – cooking food from scratch.
What I value most right now, is seeing my daughter with family and friends on Christmas Day and being present to everyone there. Because, truth be told, there were holidays when we all saw the enormous pressure to present the perfect holiday meal took a toll on my grandmother – who worked nights, full-time. She couldn’t really enjoy our gatherings until she retired.
And even then she continued to bake pepparkarkor and Russian tea cookies, pickled her green beans, put them all in a box as a gift to the the family. For a copy of the recipe my Grammy Jo used to make fill out the form below. And please note the proportions: she baked to give as gifts to the circle of family which included the children of her 6 other siblings!