Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Traditions {even*cleveland}

For our next stop in this Holiday Traditions series, we are heading to Ohio to check in with clever and crafty Stephanie, the woman behind the always brilliant blog even*cleveland.

What were your family's holiday traditions when you were younger? What was a typical Christmas Eve/Christmas Day for your family?

Every year, we would light pink and purple candles in my mother's simple Advent wreath and start counting down the days early. There never was much money, but Christmas was a big deal- there were strange and special foods and cookies to be made, smelly pennies to roll to take to the bank to buy presents, things to make and secrets to keep.

On Christmas morning, we always started with stockings, which usually had little utilitarian luxuries like fancy toothbrushes, boxes of printed band-aids, and little pots of lip gloss. After stockings, we opened presents- my dad always had to hand them out, because he wrote all the gift tags as riddles. To get your present, you had to figure out which ones were for you. That's something we look forward to still.

My parents' tree

Did you/do you leave treats for Santa? If so, what were/are they?

We always left an assortment of home-made cookies and a tall glass of milk, along with carrots for the reindeer.

Have your family traditions changed since you've gotten older?

I think the core of our traditions have remained the same- the only thing that has changed is that I wake up at my own house now instead of my parents', and I don't wake up at 6 AM ready to dive into my stocking. I make it until at least 7.

Have you implemented your own traditions into your life since you've gotten older?

I have. Sean and I started dating in a December long ago, so our early courtship was blended into all kinds of seasonal things, like driving to look at Christmas lights, watching Christmas movies, going ice-skating and making ornaments for each other. Those are things we still make a point of doing together every year.

When we were at the Chriskindl markets in Vienna, we bought handmade wool felt slipper boots with pointy tops, and since then, we have set them out instead of stockings.

Have you ever gone caroling?

Caroling was important in my family. When I was growing up, we went caroling just about every year. My father is a professional musician, so he would have us practice harmonies a week or two before, then we would bundle up and head out into the snow to walk and sing. We always sang very traditional songs, and usually one or two in French- my mother is a Francophile, so she would coach us along.

The best part was that people were alway so surprised and happy, and one lady on our street always magically had hot cookies for us to eat after we sang. She must have been baking constantly, because we never told anyone when we were going out. They tasted delicious- I remember them steaming in the cold air.

Caroling books made by Stephanie

What foods do you feel are must haves during the holiday season?

Cookies, cookies, cookies. My mother and I have an annual baking jamboree, because that is the taste of Christmas to us- ginger spritz, balesh with nut or apricot filling, creme wafers, sugar cookies, nut balls, jam thumbprints, homemade marshmallows, macaroons, plus a few new recipes we try to work in. I like to make bourbon milk punch to go with cookies- it's boozy, but lighter than eggnog. We call it Super Milk.

What does a traditional Christmas meal include for you?

My mother's Italian Wedding soup and my great-grandmother's fruit salad- it has oranges, grapes, and pineapple in it. It was a Christmas treat during the Depression, when fruit was expensive and hard to come by.

What is your Christmas decorating style?

I like all things handmade and simple. Most of our decorations are handmade or little things we have picked up on our wanderings. They are all very meaningful to me.

Village made by Stephanie

White lights or colored lights?

Either- it depends on my mood. This year we have white lights on the tree, but I do love colored lights- they take me back to my childhood, when I used to lay on the floor under the tree and look up with squinty eyes to make the lights twinkle.

Our tree this year

What is one holiday-related event that you must do during the holiday season?

I need to watch It's A Wonderful Life. It reminds me that a good life is possible even if you don't get to follow your dreams.

Do you have a favorite holiday memory?

Layer upon layer of good memories- I think that is why I feel so happy this time of year. One of my favorites is the year my little brother gave us all geodes for Christmas- one after another, we each unwrapped a dingy rock and were completely confused as to why they were our presents. My brother was as pleased as can be, though, and kept telling us, "But if you hit it with a hammer, there could be diamonds inside!" It was too funny.

Another favorite is the year Sean and I spent Christmas in Dublin. We had just gotten back from Vienna, which was a winter wonderland full of beautiful Christmas tree stands on every corner. When we got back to Dublin, we couldn't find a tree anywhere. I was sick and feeling terrible, so Sean literally walked the length and breadth of the city, until he found a scraggly pine in a pot at a flower wholesale market. It was truly a Charlie Brown tree, but we thought it was amazingly beautiful. It was either Christmas magic at work or too much cold medicine.

Complete this sentence- "It wouldn't be Christmas for me without..."


Stephanie, I love the story of Sean searching for a Christmas tree in Dublin; it is so sweet and illustrates the importance traditions carry in our lives. I also love that your dad riddles all the gift tags- what a unique and special tradition. And your baking jamborees with your mom sound delicious! Thank you so much for sharing these memories with us.

There are still more Holiday Traditions to share in the coming days, and be sure to check out Tina's and Kimberlee's interviews if you missed them!

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