Today, welcome guest blogger Melissa Smith. Actually, Melissa’s not a blogger, but she’s a friend of mine. We have kids the same ages in school, and we share a lot of views as well. Melissa shares her family’s Christmas Eve traditions today — I think I want to show up at her house!
In one of my favorite movies, Fiddler on the Roof, the milkman Tevya reflects on the value of tradition for the people of Anatevka. “Because of our traditions,” says Tevya, “every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” When our children were small the wait for Christmas morning was almost unbearable. The absolute worst day of waiting was Christmas Eve. So taking a piece of advice from Tevya, we decided to start some new traditions in our home centering on making Christmas Eve a more meaningful time of waiting, learning and fun. We could use Christmas Eve as a no stress time to teach our kids who they were and what God expects them to do.
Here are the ingredients for our Christmas Eve celebration: we always include a food adventure, try to find some connection to our family, make it really unique. We started with a celebration of Christmas in Bethlehem when the boys were only 3 and 6 years old. Being of a somewhat historical bent of mind, I researched what kind of foods might have actually been available and common to the people of Jesus time. We had a feast of flat bread, watercress, fish, figs, goat cheese, and honey. My husband and I fixed up our dining room to look different, we ate by lamp light. The boys thought it was fun and really different. The house was filled with new aromas and new ideas. At the end of the evening, we read the Nativity story from Luke, chapter 2, and then sent the boys off to bed. It was an amazing diversion and so we decided to do it again the next year; new theme, same tradition.
My sons are now 11 and 15 years old. The Christmas Eve tradition has become one of our family’s favorite parts of the holiday. As the boys grow older, they have grown more and more interested in the discussion of what we will be doing on Christmas Eve. Its now become a discussion topic at the dinner table starting in about September. One year, since our family heritage is German, we had a German Fest for Christmas Eve. I made Schnitzel, German dumplings, red cabbage, made a big old strudel for dessert. We learned to sing O Christmas Tree, and Silent Night in German, then we looked at our family tree, took out family pictures and discussed our German heritage.
We have had a Civil War Christmas featuring ham and cornbread and Union Army Beans from an authentic 1860 recipe. After dinner we read the war-time letters from soldiers written at the Stones River, a battle fought in Tennessee in the week between Christmas and New Years.
We have had an authentic Roman dinner of plum chicken, braised cucumbers, lentils and a Roman custard from a cookbook that provided ancient Roman recipes translated from Latin and adapted for a modern kitchen. Then we sat down and watched the movie, Ben Hur to finish off our Roman theme. Last year, it was Christmas Eve in Narnia—where it was always winter and never Christmas. My boys enjoyed deciding whether Turkish Delight was really “the” candy that would motivate them to sign up with the White Witch—it wasn’t. But the English Tea cakes were good and we had a great time. Last year was the first time the boys expressed an interest helping with the food preparation. Maybe they were just typical boys, foraging for tasty tidbits, but I was encouraged.
What’s up for this year you’re wondering? After my 11 year old read The Hobbit last summer, we are all about the Hobbit these days. The movie didn’t hurt the momentum either. So we’ve decided we are going to have an “unexpected adventure” this year. I’ve been searching for recipes for some good, solid Hobbit food and just this morning found the website. Its funny how that ALWAYS happens just in time. We’re having pork pie, seed cakes, buttered scones and raspberry tarts, (ginger) ale, eggs, pickles and all the assorted kinds of yummies that Bilbo had stored away in his larder. Now, where to find some unexpected guests! If you’re up for an unexpected adventure, it might be you!
Tevya was right! As we have built our family traditions, we have learned so many things, and more importantly, we have built a heritage of wholesome family time that has deflated some of the materialism of Christmas. I’m sure at this time of celebrating the joy of Christ’s birth, He would approve of our celebration of tradition and family.