When I grew up and had my own family celebrating our own Christmases here in the West, I continued the tradition of baking, keeping some of our original recipes and adding some new delights. Over time, I figured out our ‘favourites’ and for many years I repeated my faithful recipes. Lately, I’ve tried some new ones and have let some others go.
Last weekend, our daughter, Kaitlyn, sent me a picture of a new shortbread cookie she was trying. She mentioned she was testing out some new recipes this year. As I thought about this idea of recipes, about whether the old tried and true ones or the new ones were ‘best’ it struck me that not only do each of us have favourite food recipes we use year over year, we may also have developed habitual recipes that we turn to.
It’s possible that just as Aunt Flo’s jellied salad isn’t as much of a treat as she once thought it was, perhaps some of our recipes need a revamp too!
When I think back to a familiar recipe I’ve used to prepare myself and our family for Christmas, there are many ingredients I would not change at all. I always tried to make the month of December a fun one, starting with hanging up the Advent Calendar on December first. The day the calendar was hung was a big deal. Jim made the calendar out of Bristol board, drawing a house and twenty-five opening doors on it. Behind each door, before I went to bed each night, I would place a little sign behind the door that corresponded to the next day’s date telling the kids what Christmas activity we would be doing that day. The activities could be as simple as ‘Christmas Hot Chocolate’ or something requiring more time like ‘Visit Heritage Park’. The kids loved it and we loved it. It forced us to make sure we did not put off doing things that would some day be looked back upon as traditions.
When our children went off to university, each of them chose a place of study that allowed them to experience living away from home. As December approached each of those years, I knew that not only were they ‘too big’ for our old Advent Calendar, but they were not even home to open the doors. I also figured out that if I was missing them and this tradition, then they were likely missing it too. So, I modified it slightly and decided to include all of their roommates in the festivities. I created the Twelve Days of Christmas, shopping to find little gifts that they could open each day with their roommates, and packaging it up and sending it off in time for the first of December. Each gift had the date of opening on it. Some gifts were just as simple as what we had done when the kids were tiny. For Greg’s four ‘engineering type’ roommates, their first day required them each to make a paper chain so they could count down the days until they could go home. I don’t remember all of the gifts but I think they enjoyed a Christmas movie together, wore Christmas socks and drank hot chocolate. Greg said they gathered every evening after supper, before they settled down to study to open their little gift. He told us that they absolutely loved it. None of them wanted to miss the ritual of the evening.
I now understand that creating traditions and making Christmas visible were crucial ingredients in my Christmas recipe.
Another ingredient that I liked to sprinkle into my recipe was music. I played carols in the house while we tackled chores that needed doing. Baking and board games were added to the recipe in healthy doses.
Generosity was a topping for my Christmas recipe. We tried to model the gift of giving by feeding the animals that visited our yard, leaving carrots and apples for the deer and filling bird feeders for our feathered friends. We bought and left secret gifts for people we thought might welcome them and we participated in school charity events.
When I look back, I notice I have switched out some ingredients from my old recipes these days. Whereas I once needed the order of the Calendar to help me get things done and to teach the kids the importance of tradition, I now bake with a good supply of flexibility. As our kids have families of their own to consider, I want them to create their own traditions and memories and so I’m happy to adjust some of my own.
I know too that I’ve completely eliminated some of the old ingredients. Perhaps I’ve noticed the ‘best before’ date and realized that trying to keep using these might not create the end product I’m imagining.
This past week, our daughter Kaitlyn, put out her new Advent Calendar for little Benjamin. Jim made it for their family. This time, he could afford to build it out of wood and he had the advantage of time. He worked on it over the winter last year. Ben is too young to understand any of this. Not the activities or the gifts. He is not too young to experience the feeling of it. And I love that this particular favourite recipe has been passed along to a new generation. It is updated and modernized and yet it is completely the same.
As you enter this second week of the Christmas month, you’ll likely start pulling out old recipes of your own. Hopefully you’ll use only ingredients that will feed the true Christmas spirit in your life.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What ingredients shall I use today?’
Elizabeth creates and facilitates custom workshops for corporate, public and private groups. She provides leadership and personal coaching for individuals and teams. Contact Elizabeth to help you uncover your most authentic recipe for creating your best results.