I am determined this year to not let this most wonderful of holy days stress me out. Once Thanksgiving ends, we all know that plans for Christmas pick up steam, sometimes forcing us to cook more, spend more,
and in general do a whole lot more than we are able to gracefully do. Not this year.
I started planning ahead, decided to cut down on everything, while still maintaining the most important of traditions. Each year I wonder just how much more commercial the Christmas season can become and am amazed at the many ways retailers try to make us spend money we don’t have.
And many people just don’t have the money to buy everything they’d like for their children and other family members. I’ve decided that that’s okay. Perhaps this economic downturn can result in something positive, like spending more time rather than money, with the people we love; by reading stories about the real reason for Christmas, Hannukah or other religious holiday that takes place in December.
Like making some of the gifts we give, like telling those friends and relatives that are so precious to us just that.
One of the most important activities for people during this time of year is gatherings with friends and family, whether it’s at a dinner party, Christmas open house, or coffee just to share thoughts and ideas.
Christmas dinner at my house as I was growing up was a much smaller affair than Thanksgiving. It was just the immediate family and my grandmother seated around the table after the presents had been opened.
The meal was also a smaller version of some of the special dishes we enjoyed at Thanksgiving, with fewer of them. But it was certainly just as nice, warm and loving, and perhaps even more so because we got to really talk with each other.
My mom, of course, kept an eye on the oven and the dishes cooking on the stovetop as we opened the Christmas presents, and as we grew older, we helped out more. The afternoon was relaxing, even for my parents, as we children tried on new clothes, played new games, and savored each gift given to us. Sometimes, particularly when we were older, we’d all go to a family-friendly movie at the local theater.
As I grow older, I’ve learned to try to take the day easier, to relax and to not get all upset that something wasn’t exactly perfect. I think of my parents, my siblings when they were younger, and the special traditions our family established. They are warm memories that helped make me who I am.
Christmas dinner almost always included a ham or pork roast, soup, mashed potatoes, and several vegetables, as well as a pie or two.
Here are two vegetable dishes popular during both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
Baked Butternut Squash and Apples (serves 6-8)
4 or 5 apples, such as Macs or Cortland, peeled and sliced
1 large butternut squash, peeled, cut into cubes and cooked until soft
one-half cup honey
juice of one-half lemon
butter and nutmeg
Butter a 2- or 3-quart round casserole dish
Mash the drained squash and pile in the prepared dish.
Place apple slices around the squash mound.
Dot with butter and sprinkle with nutmeg.
Bake at 350 degrees until the apples are soft, or about 40 minutes.
Crunchy-Topped Sweet Potato Casserole (serves 6-8)
3 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and mashed
one-half cup granulated sugar
one-half cup melted butter, margarine, or butter substitute
2 beaten eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
one-quarter cup milk
One-half cup brown sugar
One-quarter cup flour
2 and one-half tablespoons cold butter, margarine or butter substitute
one-half cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Combine all the casserole ingredients and stir well by hand.
Spoon into a buttered 2-quart casserole dish.
For the topping, combine the brown sugar and flour, then cut in the cold butter with a pastry cutter or two knives. Spoon evenly on the top of the sweet potato mixture.
Sprinkle nuts on top.
Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.