Tag Archive | tradition

Gratitude for Thanksgivings Past

Mim - Blue Sky - adj

Mim

One day last week when Mim and I were out walking Floey, Mim asked me, “Are you looking forward to Thanksgiving this year?” I thought for a minute, and then replied, “Not really. I’m not dreading it, but I’m not excited about it. We don’t really have any special plans. Oh, we’ll have a nice dinner at home, but we’re not expecting a house full of friends and relatives, like has been the case for many Thanksgivings in the past. But Mim’s question got me thinking about Thanksgivings Past…

We don’t have a family Thanksgiving tradition that we’ve followed for years and years. We usually have a big turkey dinner, although Mim just reminded me of one Thanksgiving on the farm during our B&B days when we spent the day cleaning up the yard and we put a pizza in the oven for our big dinner when the work was done.

When we lived in Chicago we established a tradition for several years of having a big family dinner in our two-flat. Mim’s mom came down from Minnesota and spent a week or so with us. My mom and dad came down from Cambridge and spent the 4-day weekend with us. My brother and his family and my sister and her family all came down for the day.

Family at Thanksgiving in ChicagoWe fixed the traditional turkey dinner and served 20-25 people. We arranged our dining room table and several folding tables into a T-shape so that we could all fit around the “same table.” Our downstairs neighbor joined us and contributed the stuffing. It was a fun family gathering, although a bit chaotic to get that many people seated together in a moderate size dining room. My mom gave me a double set of stainless steel “silverware” for Christmas after our first Thanksgiving in Chicago so that we wouldn’t have to borrow from our neighbor next time. My mom felt that everyone should have enough china and silverware to serve a sit-down dinner for as many guests as they invite, even if it’s 24 guests – regardless of the size of their dining room. You can always squeeze a couple more people around a table, but everyone needs their own place setting.

Since Mim and I have lived in Wisconsin (since 1992), we haven’t had a regular pattern for Thanksgiving. Sometimes we’ve gone to my brother’s for a Thanksgiving dinner; sometimes to my sister’s; sometimes both! Sometimes we’ve hosted family and friends of our assisted living residents. All of these Thanksgiving dinners have been times of being thankful for good food and for the wonderful people who are a part of our lives.

My happiest Thanksgiving memories of all come from the time when I was a child and I was helping my mom get everything ready for the big dinner. Usually there would be about a dozen people all together for dinner. My first job of the morning was to crawl under the dining room table to unlatch the lever so that the table could be pulled open for two leaves to be put in place. Next Mom and I would put on the lace tablecloth together. Then I set the table with the “good dishes” and silverware. My next job was to carry up folding chairs from the basement and set them around the table, interspersed with the regular dining chairs. If needed, I added the piano stool and organ bench. Two kids could sit together on the bench.

roast turkeyMom never thought she knew how to roast a big turkey, so the Cambridge Bakery took care of that for her. All we had to do was have someone go to the bakery to pick it up when we were ready to eat. That was Dad’s job. Mom fixed all the rest of the food – potatoes, gravy, stuffing, corn, squash, green beans or peas, cranberries, fruit salad, clover-leaf rolls, and pumpkin pie. The beverages were apple cider (from a cousin’s apple orchard in Lake Mills) and coffee.

nut cupsJust helping Mom get all the food ready was fun. We worked together well. She told me what to do, and I knew how to follow directions. But the absolutely best job of all for me was filling the nut cups. That’s what made Thanksgiving special. Nut cups. I don’t know why that tradition has fallen out of favor these days. It’s a real loss. The nut cups themselves were small paper cups covered in brightly colored crepe paper. Mom always picked up bags of M&Ms, candy corn, candy pumpkins, Brach’s bridge mix chocolates, and a can of peanuts.  I carefully counted out an equal number of every piece of candy and every peanut as I filled each nut cup. I had to be fair. Then I placed a nut cup at the top of each plate to the left of the glass.

candy corn and pumpkinsWhen we hosted Thanksgiving dinners in Chicago, I carried on the nut cup tradition. I couldn’t find crepe paper nut cups in the stores anymore, so I made some square ones out of construction paper and put a Thanksgiving-themed sticker on each one. They also doubled as name plates so we could politely tell each person where to sit. The ingredients were the same except we substituted foil covered chocolates for the bridge mix and mixed nuts for the peanuts. (The Georgia Nut Company outlet store was just down the street from us.)

Thanksgiving chocolatesBack to Mim’s question, I guess what’s special about Thanksgiving this year is that I took time to remember all my Thanksgivings Past.

In yesterday’s JESUS CALLING devotional reading, Sarah Young wrote that Jesus told us:

As you sit quietly in My Presence, let Me fill your heart and mind with thankfulness. …

As you go through this day, look for tiny treasures strategically placed along the way. I lovingly go before you and plant little pleasures to brighten your day. Look carefully for them, and pluck them one by one. When you reach the end of the day, you will have gathered a lovely bouquet. Offer it up to Me with a grateful heart. Receive My Peace as you lie down to sleep, with thankful thoughts playing a lullaby in your mind.

The tiny treasures I’m discovering today are all kinds of wonderful Thanksgiving memories – especially nut cups!

Happy-Thanksgiving-Wallpaper-2012-1

 

The Best Family Tradition of All – Baking Christmas Cookies!

Christmas Cookies

Some of the traditional Christmas cookies Mim and I bake every year. The Norwegian cookies are the golden ones on the right.

For the month of December, Joan Chittister has been focusing on the role of traditions in our lives in her pamphlet, The Monastic Way. On December 11 she said:

Traditions are meant to develop us emotionally, one layer of understanding at a time. It is our traditions – the Easter eggs, the Christmas trees – that lead us back to the very centers of life. They shape us spiritually and form us socially. They are the magnets that draw us to the center of our souls.

Mom-Dad on stumpChittister left out the best tradition of all from her examples – Christmas cookies! My mom baked at least a dozen different kinds of Christmas cookies every December. One reason for so many cookies is that my parents were in a mixed marriage – my mom was Norwegian and my dad was German – so my mom felt obligated to bake both Norwegian and German cookies. Plus, she always liked to try out new recipes. I loved all the Norwegian cookies. The German cookies – not so much. My mom faithfully made the same Korth recipe for peppernuts every year, and every year they turned out the same – as hard as a rock. We let them age for at least a month, because no one ate them (except my dad dunked a few in his coffee), and then we threw the rest of them out for the birds.

Some of my fondest Christmas memories are spending a couple evenings every December decorating both light and dark cookie cutouts (sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies). My mom frosted each cookie and Danny and I carefully decorated them with every color of sugar my mom could find – red, green, yellow, blue, purple, pink, and multicolor nonpareils. We also used red-hot candies, and little silver and gold balls. Sometimes we would even cut up red and green gum drops to make leaves and berries to decorate wreathes. Our cookies were almost too beautiful to eat, although that never stopped us.

By Christmas we had stacks of cookie tins filled with hundreds of cookies. Even though we ate heartily, there’s no way we would ever eat that many cookies. But my mom had a better idea anyway. Just before Christmas she boxed up a selection of cookies for a lot of the older people in Cambridge who didn’t bake their own Christmas cookies, and we made a delivery run a day or two before Christmas.

When I was in my twenties and living with Mim in Chicago, baking Christmas cookies together was one of the first traditions we established. We had to negotiate on whose recipes to use. Over the years we’ve worked it out. We use her mom’s recipe for Krumkake and my mom’s recipe for Berliner Kranzer. We carried over the tradition of making lots of different kinds of cookies – more than we could possibly eat – and solved that problem by hosting the coffee hour after church the Sunday closest to Christmas. Our Lutheran church in Chicago had lots of retired Swedes as members, and Norwegian cookies were close enough to Swedish to bring back pleasant memories on their taste buds.

Christmas Cookies at Resurrection

The cookies are arranged. The candles are lit. The postlude must be starting. Mim’s ready to pour coffee.

When we were in our forties we moved back to the farm in Cambridge. Soon afterwards, Mim’s mom had a stroke which left her paralyzed on one side. She came to live with us for the next five years. I can still picture her sitting at the dining room table in her wheelchair, rolling out Kringla, a doughnut-like soft Norwegian cookie, rolled by hand into a pencil-like shape and twisted to look like a pretzel. She also helped us decorate cookies. One day our youngest niece Emily joined us to work on decorating cookies together. What better activity to bring multiple generations together than decorating Christmas cookies!

From left to right - Marian frosting cookies, Emily decorating, and Selma and Megabyte supervising.

From right to left – Marian frosting cookies, Emily decorating, and Selma and Megabyte supervising.

Seven years ago, when we moved to our condo, my sister Nancy, who lived nearby, came over to spend a day baking Christmas cookies together. I think we baked about six different kinds in that one long day. By the end of the day we were exhausted, but we had something beautiful and delicious to show for our efforts. And it was fun working together, using the cookie-baking skills we had learned from our mother. The next year my sister passed away. Last year around Christmas time Mim and I went to see our niece Michelle, Nancy’s daughter. She served us Christmas cookies – just the like ones her mom used to make. The tradition continues.

Cindy, my brother’s daughter, is also carrying on the Christmas cookies tradition. Even though Cindy is gluten intolerant, she enlists her nieces to help her bake and decorate some of the most beautiful cookies I’ve ever seen.

Joan Chittister has it right –

Traditions are meant to develop us emotionally, one layer of understanding at a time. It is our traditions – the Easter eggs, the Christmas trees, [the Christmas cookies!] – that lead us back to the very centers of life. They shape us spiritually and form us socially. They are the magnets that draw us to the center of our souls.

Now I need to get back to baking cookies. We’re trying three new recipes this year, plus baking most of our family standards. I plan to bring a selection to my brother’s family. I guess I might pack up a few cookie tins for some friends, too. But I don’t think I have to worry about the cookies not getting eaten. Our 93-year-olds like our Christmas cookies just as much as our youngest nieces and nephews, and the next generation beyond them…

Emily w decorated Xmas cookies