Whether you’re celebrating the holidays or enjoying the beauty of the season, winter is a time where many of us partake in special traditions with family and friends. In the spirit of the season, we asked the Weelunk team to share their favorite holiday or winter traditions.
While the holidays might look a little different this year, there are many traditions that can still be enjoyed safely, like preparing family recipes and watching holiday classics on television. Browse through our writers’ favorite traditions and reminisce about the commonalities many of us share and get inspired by some of the more unique traditions.
What are your favorite holiday or winter traditions? Share them with us in the comments section at the end of this article.
Generations of Sweetness
One of my favorite holiday traditions is making cookies with my kids. We actually do this for most holidays, not just Christmas. I make sugar cookies from a recipe passed down from my great-grandmother, known to us as Grandma Miller, and then we decorate them together. It is usually pretty messy, and I can count on at least one sibling fight, but it’s important to me that they have the memories of us doing things like this together.
The cookie recipe works really well for cut-out cookies. I have it on a piece of paper written in my mom’s handwriting, and I plan to pass that down to my daughter someday – or give her a copy in my handwriting. I’ve made a few slight adaptations to the original recipe, including doubling the yield. They’re our favorite!
Materkoski Kids - Miller (2), Mason (8), and Mercer (4)
Original hand-written copy of the recipe in my mom’s handwriting.
My adaptation of the recipe with doubled yield.
Winter Watch List
Every year, I make a list of all of my favorite Christmas movies and TV show episodes to watch in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I usually start it right after Thanksgiving and it changes every year. The list includes anything from classic favorites like It’s a Wonderful Life to more recent blockbusters like Elf. Friends and family have started anticipating and asking for copies–usually because I catch the obscure or easily forgotten titles, like the Rankin/Bass specials from the 60s and 70s. It’s a fun way to get in the Christmas-y mood and keeps me entertained while wrapping presents or baking holiday treats!
There’s something to be said about the joy and cheerful feelings a child gets at Christmas time. It’s both remarkable and incredibly unmatchable. For me it begins with a good soundtrack. A soundtrack full of classic songs that help me feel like a kid on Christmas.
No matter whether we’re decorating, cruising through Oglebay, or walking through the park at Fort Steuben, the Christmas music is my favorite part of the season.
We can thank the Home Alone movies for introducing me to “Run Rudolph Run” by Chuck Berry. It’s an absolute classic. Better known for songs like “Johnny B Goode” or “You Never Can Tell,” Chuck was a breakthrough guitar player and songwriter. Without Mr. Berry, there would be no Lennon or McCartney.
That brings me to my personal favorite Christmas song, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono featuring The Harlem Community Choir. The track was written as a protest song for the Vietnam War in 1971. It was also rumored that John was sick of hearing “White Christmas.”
My children would be upset if I didn’t mention the “Chimney Song” by comedian and spoof song writer Bob Rivers. I truly hope everyone reading this has had the pleasure of hearing this song. There’s nothing more funny than the idea of Santa Claus getting stuck in your chimney and stinking up the place. My kids recently found a fan-made animated video on YouTube.
Stories from the Beer Shed
The arrival of the holiday season elicits memories of a tradition from my young adulthood. Not the schmoozy family gift-exchanging get-togethers of social norm…but a more unconventional gathering in a farm setting.
Each year during Pennsylvania’s deer gun season, my best friend and I would be enthralled by old men’s life stories in his family farm’s “beer shed.” We would all sip from the same bottle of the esophagus-melting Imperial Whiskey which tasted like a mash-up of Kerosene and Pitchblende. We would chase it down with the similarly noxious Utica Beer they bought by the palette.
Those were the days…
Every year for the holidays, my friends and I get together to share gifts, food and laughter. For the last four years, we have gotten dressed up and headed to the 19th Hole every Christmas evening. My family and I have turkey or leg of lamb each year in celebration. I of course drive through the Festival of Lights, often with a hot cocoa in hand!
Family and Faith
When I think of Christmas traditions, two come to my mind in my favorite holiday season: Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s and Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
Perched atop a hill overlooking the Ohio River in Clarington, my grandmother Sonja’s beautiful home has hosted every Christmas Eve since 1970. When I think of Christmas, her home and all the warmth of it go hand in hand. In a normal year, 40 to 50 of our family members and close friends gather to celebrate. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled what would have been her 50th year of hosting our large gathering. Rarely one to break from tradition, I will be spending Christmas Eve where I have every year – at Gam’s house – however, with a mask and without our family.
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For me, there’s no better way to ring in Christmas than attending Midnight Mass at our diocese’s magnificent cathedral. Entering the warm, candlelit nave, the aroma of incense and singing of the choir reminds me of the mysticism and awe of the ancient and sacred traditions observed by the Church on that special night.
Without a doubt 2020 has curtailed many of our holiday traditions. However, that doesn’t mean the spirit of the season has to be. Send cards, bake some cookies, be kind, and think of your neighbors. Just as the cathedral transitions from the dimness to brilliant illumination during Midnight Mass, a vaccine is now being distributed that is beginning to move us out of the darkness and into the light. Keep the faith, we’re almost there.
A Krampus Hunt
Holiday-ing in your mid to late 20s is a strange game and requires a bit of creativity. Last year my friend group, affectionately known as “the gang,” decided to spice things up with a Krampus scavenger hunt! Inspired by an event I attended years prior, the recipe for this evening looked a little something like this.
1. Decorate your home extra festively and place a conspicuously locked briefcase in the center of your coffee table.
2. Hide paper clues scrawled with riddles and numbers corresponding to the locked briefcase throughout your home.
3. After providing your troupe with a liberal amount of adult beverages, set the party off by giving them their first clue.
4. Watch as your unbalanced friends scour your entire apartment to solve the puzzle and open the case.
Last Christmas we had a party of 10 people opening jars, lifting couch cushions, and upending tables all in the effort to open the locked briefcase. Once the last riddle was read and the final number uncovered, this cast of Christmas characters successfully opened the case to reveal a dozen little stockings filled with airplane bottles of alcohol and candy canes.
That was truly a Christmas party to remember.
A Growing Tradition
When my daughter was young, we started driving out into the country to a Christmas tree farm where we could choose and cut our own tree and pay in a repurposed train caboose. Often we drove out on the day after Thanksgiving to choose and tag it, marking it with a ring of spray paint around the trunk and red SOLD tags prominently zip-tied to its branches. Closer to Christmas, we’d return to cut it down and bring it home, with a little candy cane for each member of the family. As she grew, so did the ritual, with a stop at Starbuck’s for warm holiday drinks, and the Roches’ “We Three Kings” in the CD player. Eventually she was big enough to saw the tree herself. To this day, small candy canes remind us of those happy years.
“Toast” to the Holidays
As someone with Italian roots, anise is one of the flavors I associate most with Christmas. Anise is native to the Mediterranean (hence its popularity in Italian cuisine) and has a flavor similar to licorice. It is used in recipes such as biscotti, pizzelle, Italian cookies, and more. My family likes to make anise toast, a simple and less dense version of the classic, crunchy biscotti. This recipe comes courtesy of my great-aunt Rose.
It’s All About the Food
Every Christmas in Buffalo we have dinner with my mom’s Siclian-American family. The guest list might change slightly from year to year depending on who’s in town but one thing NEVER changes; the menu.
We have Shrimp Cocktail, ALWAYS. My dad splurges on big gulf shrimp and makes his famous cocktail sauce (it has lots of horseradish, it’s so good). We usually snack on some meats, cheeses and vegetables before supper as well. I make a vinaigrette for a light refreshing salad which my mom serves as the first course with bread. I’ve been making garlic knots as the bread the last couple of years. We then move on to the show stopper, my mom’s lasagna. She makes a separate pan for the vegetarians but I go for the one with my dad’s meatballs in the sauce. The filling for the lasagna is a simple ricotta mixture with spinach, parmesan, garlic and egg.
Alongside the lasagna and meatballs we have sliced braciole. My mom flattens flank steak and rolls it up with breadcrumbs, parmesan, fresh herbs and prosciutto. In the very center you roll a hard boiled egg. After being browned on the stove, it simmers away for hours in the tomato sauce before being sliced. I remember passing this up as a kid (egg in meat seemed weird) but it’s one of the dishes I look most forward to as an adult.
We won’t be together for Christmas this year but my talented sister made a cookbook for everyone in the family with all the essential recipes so folks could have these dishes at their own homes, a little taste of family while we are far apart.
Editor’s Note: All of the group photos included in this article were taken prior to the coronavirus pandemic. We encourage all of our readers to celebrate safely this year by staying home and following the latest guidelines.