Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Christmas with Old Country Flavor

Merry almost-Christmas! This is a guest post today at thanks Elia for inviting me to your virtual Christmas party! Be sure to check out all the other guest posts on Christmas traditions. 

Our Christmas is probably quite similar to most middle-class American homes, but with a few aspects that might set it apart from the pack. We retain quite a few of the traditions important to my childhood with other activities inspired by my husband's culture and our faith tradition.

Advent (St Philip's fast beginning November 15th for Byzantine Catholics) is a time of fasting, penance and preparation. We do our best to keep parties to a minimum; even our songs have an Advent focus. We fast from meat as much as possible to emphasize the anticipation of the season. Christmas Eve will be light foods; most likely cheese broccoli soup with homemade bread. Because we spent Advent preparing for the Christmas season, we celebrate the entire season and we don't stop on December 25th. Did you know that the 'twelve days of Christmas' begins with Christmas Day and then goes from there? So, we begin by delaying decorating the tree as long as the kids let us and we don't take it down before January 6th. 

Christmas morning begins like this...the children come down and open stockings at about seven o'clock. Then, they eat some breakfast, usually something easy like sausage, toast and fruit. Eggnog is always on the menu. If I have a cup of black tea and Christmas music playing, I am fulfilled. The kids will look through the goodies in their stockings while they eat. In our house, Saint Nicholas has already been here on the 6th and filled their shoes. He comes back to fill the stockings, but all other presents are received from family and friends. 

Then, it's time for church. It can be a challenge for the children to wait to open the presents under the tree, but every year they are glad that the gift-portion of the day is stretched out.

Your birth, O Christ our God
Has shed upon the world the light of knowledge;
For through it, those who worship the stars
Have learned from a star to worship You, the Sun of Justice
And to recognize You as the Orient From On High.
Glory be to You, O Lord
Troparian for the Nativity 

Dressed in our best, we'll celebrate Christ's birth with Liturgy and song. After the service, my girls will offer the parishioners the cookies they baked (chocolate chip, cranberry/white chocolate/pecan, coconut snowballs) before everyone goes their separate ways for the rest of the day. We'll sing along to Christmas carols on the radio during our hour long drive home. usually, we get home around four in the afternoon. You can imagine that the children are looking forward to finally opening presents! I try to make them wait so I can get dinner started. 

One aspect of our Christmas celebrations which is very important is to wait for everybody. I remember being horrified as a child when friends talked about how their parents would put each child's presents in a separate pile and everyone would just go to town and open them without waiting turns! We start youngest to oldest, and everyone looks at the present-opener and then admires the gift. If the gift-giver is present, the receiver gives them a kiss or hug. We don't go so far as to play a new game during the gift-opening, but a new piece of clothing might be modeled. Because we start gift-opening so late, we might even skype with my family on the West coast or my husband's family in Europe at this time. 

Christmas dinner is British- a nod to some of my family's heritage. The menu is roast beef, turkey, plenty of gravy, mashed potatoes made with butter and sour cream, homemade cranberry sauce, popovers, Brussels sprouts (parboil them, then pan roast with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and a squeeze of lemon- I'll make some carrots the same way) and homemade bread made by the girls. Dessert will be individual trifles (very easy because they can be made ahead except for the whipped cream) plus pumpkin and chocolate pies. Luckily, this year will have some family visiting to help us eat all this food!

On the second day of Christmas, we will again celebrate Christ's birth with church celebrations and lots of food. We'll make time to play with the new games (nope- nothing of the 'video' game variety- we are old school here). We'll take advantage of Dad's relative downtime from work and go play at the park. This year, we are taking the cousins to a rollerskating party with our homeschooling group. And we will Christmas carol as much as possible. It's not like the old country where you walk up and down the streets with many other caroling families. We sometimes drive hours to go Christmas caroling at a parishioner's home. But this is the most important social aspect of the holiday for us. All the homes that welcome us to carol will also have a full spread of holiday appetizers and sweets. Sometimes, it is hard to eat anything at the last home of the day!

Before the season is over, we will eat all the essential foods from my husband's country, Romania. Stuffed cabbage rolls ("sarmale") are probably the most popular food. And yes, we will be served one of my husband's favorites food- calves' foot jelly- while we go to different people's homes to carol during the days between Christmas and New Year's Day. Desserts can vary, but we will eat nut and poppyseed cakes as well as lots of different cookies- Just in time for New Year's resolutions.

An Easy Recipe from the Old Country

Mamaliga (polenta) is a perfect food to make for a large group of people. Boil 4 parts salted water (add 2 spoons of butter to water), then add 1 part corn meal. Use a wire whisk and beat constantly while it boils. Watch out for flying mamaliga! This is not a task for the youngsters. When the mamaliga is thick, turn it on the lowest setting and make the salad. I like to make a salad from peeled Persian cucumber, tomatoes, green onion, chopped Italian parsley, a bit of fresh dill, salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil. Serve the mamaliga in bowls with feta cheese, sour cream, grated cheese such as Monterey Jack, European-style bacon and Hungarian/Romanian sausage. Enjoy! 


  1. Sounds like your traditions are a lot like ours except we have a lot of Ukrainian food ;)

    Wishing your family a blessed Nativity!

  2. Thanks for sharing your family's traditions! Though we attend the Roman Rite, we have been doing some things "Eastern" for many years. St Nicholas comes on December 6 here as well. Christmas Day we celebrate as Jesus' birthday--the kids get stockings (party favors, as they call them) and open a few presents at a time, to stretch it out. We don't decorate our tree until Christmas Eve, and they get their "big" presents on Epiphany, the same day Jesus got his "birthday presents."

  3. Wherever did you find such lovely, modest dresses for your bigger girls? Blessed Christmas!

  4. 11- The red one is homemade and the green one was a super-duper sale (bought 2 years in advance) at a swanky boutique. I feel the need to learn how to sew WELL because- as you know- there is very little out there that is pretty, modest and slightly stylish

  5. Your family is beautiful--all 6 of you! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas :)

  6. Coming late to the party, but: how absolutely lovely, all of it, and everyone. Thanks so much for sharing your traditions with (in my case) online unknowns. Just so wonderful.


thanks for commenting! (comments on old posts are moderated)