Thoughts on personalizing holiday celebrations.
When I held a holiday open house last year to celebrate my new living space, deciding on the menu was easy. I prepared a turkey with wild rice dish loaded with red grapes and peppers, chopped celery, green onions, pecans and dries cherries, dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette. A salad of dark greens, baguettes, plates of rich homemade cookies and brownies, and a festive Poinsettia Punch rounded out the offerings. The main dish was such a hit that friends were not shy about asking if they could take home some leftovers, which I encouraged, since I always make too much food. It was a bright and happy affair. Surprisingly, the hardest part was choosing what music to play.
Last year brought changes and challenges for so many that the repetitive ring of sleigh bells or some famous singer belting out carols just did not suit the occasion. After much YouTube sampling, I chose lovely Renaissance lute music that, to me, reflected the feel of tradition and had a pleasant ease. This year, I am again looking forward making careful holiday-inspired selections—hoping to discover additional, meaningful alternatives that feed my soul, honor the deeper meaning of the season and feel more authentic.
I look to history for inspiration. Coming together for food, drink, feasting and giving and receiving gifts is practically universal during the holidays. Winter Solstice on Dec. 21 is about not only the joyous return of the sun’s lifegiving light but about darkness, too. We naturally anticipate wonder and opportunity for review and renewal.
Here are some ideas for thinking a bit out of the holiday box. Skip the overheads. Think fires, candles and handsome reflective décor using rich fabrics, glass, mirrors and colors that feel right for the setting. Natural elements are appealing because they add genuine vitality with organic scents and colors. “Rosemary is for remembrance.” It is a fragrant evergreen that can adorn centerpieces and enhance flavors. In medieval times, it garlanded the celebrated boar’s head on the platter. Hang shiny, red chile ristras. Use the lavender you bundled in July and tuck it into wreaths with dried yarrow, tansy and red-berried holly. Fragrance your home by simmering together fruit and spice like apple and cinnamon or orange and clove.
We love the fresh, pine scent of Christmas trees. (I use the same one every year; it lives in a large pot on my patio.) Many traditions use trees to help convey messages by tying ribbons written with hopes and intentions for the new year or even notes to the departed. It seems a meaningful activity to share with others.
As for feasting, there are abundant opportunities to enjoy purchasing, making and giving food. So much is new and interesting. Plan to buy local from our hard-working farmers and ranchers, bakers, butchers, chocolatiers, caterers, etc. This can allow for new menu and gift items that bring joy and interest. Develop a can-do attitude toward new diets people have, and try serving something new. Try a restaurant that has a special holiday menu, and pick up a gift certificate on your way out.
Traditional favorites are so important. I would have a real problem on my hands if I did not deliver my grandmother’s powdered sugar-coated pecan puffs. People wait all year for them, and the door swings wide when they see me coming with my puffs. Sharing made-from-scratch treats is a real joy to everyone.
Is there anyone who can’t attend or will be especially missed at your holiday gatherings? The Celts used the “chalice of remembrance,” a vessel filled with drink that everyone shared yet left enough for the one being remembered. The cup was then placed next to an emblem that represented the person. Today, we might choose a photograph.
I miss my great-grandmother and cherish clear memories of her plum pudding that, once drenched with brandy and placed in a darkened room, was set alight for us to watch its magical blue flame. It was the greatly anticipated finale of our Christmas meal. I have her recipe, which was handed down from her great-grandmother. She began it weeks in advance by mixing beef kidney suet, nuts, several dried and crystalized fruits, 14 eggs, milk, molasses, sherry currant jelly and more. Once it was shaped into a ball and wrapped in cheese cloth, it hung in the spring house on the farm for a long time. I don’t want to attempt to make it, but remembering her reminds me that I have her sepia-toned wedding portrait that has been in a box for decades. What a nice addition it would be to add it to my other cherished photos on display for the holidays.
I can’t think of anyone who is not somewhat challenged by the rapid pace of our lives. This is all the more reason to think of what you (yes, you) want this season to be. It is a chance to feel deeply and make a few new choices to share and celebrate that might even become cherished memories and new traditions for future holidays.