Finding Joy in Tradition

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Happy Holidays!

When I was growing up, my parents had an Open House every Christmas Eve. Everyone came—friends, neighbors, musicians. Deep friendships were cultivated during those times, creating lasting bonds that are still in place today. Preparing the food and gifts for that special night remains a constant, brilliant memory to this day and inspired me to create a Christmas Eve just as special. I thought it would be fun to share some of our traditions as well as those from around the world.

Christmas Eve is the special day in our house, as it is in Germany, Sweden and Portugal. In those countries and in our home, this is the night when gifts are exchanged. My family has Christmas Eve dinner at a favorite restaurant; everyone has to agree on the selection! After, we come home to open all our gifts (yes, all of them and one at a time!) while eating treats and drinking hot chocolate or adult beverages. There are often games and/or a movie–usually me requesting It’s a Wonderful Life--which no one watches. Christmas morning is reserved for the stockings, stuffed with special little surprises, and can only be opened once everyone is awake. There are usually cinnamon rolls if I’m feeling particularly ambitious.


Fave new game! Snake bites, drowning, and cholera. Not sure what this says about my family.

Each of my kids choose one favorite dish and one baked item which I make for them (everyone can eat—but sometimes the baked goods go into hiding!) When my girls were younger, we hosted an Annual Cookie Decorating Party for friends and their moms, and my own mom (their beloved Grammie DeeDee) had a standing date for constructing a gingerbread house with them.

Elf on the Shelf is replaced by Gnome on the Roam once your kids grow up. Our son brought this wooden-shoed treasure back from a recent trip to Copenhagen. He hasn’t once moved from his perch on the coffee pot. Enjoy that crazy, traveling Elf while you can!

In the United Kingdom, it was thought this eve before Christmas could foretell the future. A special cake was baked, the baker secretly carved initials into the top, and it was placed on the hearth before going to bed. At midnight, the true love was to arrive and carve his or her initials next to the cake maker’s. If you’re looking for true love, make a “dumb” cake–and see what happens!

My kids always want to be home on Christmas. Any travel plans happened on December 26th, be it Tahoe or Switzerland. One of our favorite after-Christmas trips was to Zurich, when we visited dear friends who were living there for a few years. What fun to view Switzerland through the eyes of residents! When they registered their son for school, transcripts and immunizations in hand, they were told they weren’t necessary–all information could be retrieved from their mainframe. They would send an official letter inviting their son to school, and when it was received he was welcome to attend. I learned that the same “mainframe” documented any visitor whereabouts after being in the country for three days. Big brother watching? Most definitely–but child abductions are relatively nonexistent and their son could take any public transportation at any time, without fear. I fell in love with Switzerland!

The Hotel Uto Kulm, which has a viewing tower that overlooks the Alps and the whole of Zurich–referred to as the “top of Zurich”.


Sledding the Uetliberg–hop on a sled and zip FAST down a 1.9 mile run–then take the train up the hill and do it again. (While the kids and dads did this terrifying joyride, moms drank cappuccinos up at the hotel).

One of the “baked goods” requests was texted to me while writing this: peanut butter fudge.  Mom’s recipe and a family favorite–here it is:

Peanut Butter Fudge

Mix well on the stove in a heavy pot:

4 c. granulated sugar

1 can evaporated milk

8 Tbls. white KARO syrup

When it reaches the softballl stage (see photo below – a small ball can be formed with your fingers), remove and add:

Stir often; it will take about 15 minutes (and will bubble even on simmer) to reach the critical point of being able to form a ball when you spoon it into a measuring cup. 

2 Tbls. pure vanilla

4 HEAPING Tbls. (use a regular soup spoon) creamy peanut butter

Place in a pan of ice cold water and beat until smooth. Pour immediately into a buttered 9×13 pan.  Cool for about one hour and cut into pieces.

The finished product. Enjoy!!!

May your holiday season be filled with every good and perfect thing, as you enjoy traditions both handed down and newly begun.

And may you find JOY in those small things that will always remain the same.



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