Simplifying Christmas: Family & Celebration


Until last year, our nearest family members lived 1800 kms away, the next nearest family members lived 3700 kms away and the next nearest lived 5300 kms away (and this is only immediate family within Canada), we didn't always get home for Christmas. This was difficult the first year, but we muddled through and learned a few things. The most important thing was that no matter if it's one or two of us, we need to celebrate Christmas. We need to read the love story of Christmas. We need to decorate. We need to bake. We need to make a traditional Christmas meal, even if we land up picking up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and making mashed potatoes and stuffing out of a box. These things were part of what Christmas was for us when we were growing up at home and no matter how few of us there are, it needs to be recreated so that we don't get down in the dumps about being alone.

Ever since that first Christmas, we made it a goal to have friends over for a Christmas meal. If it is friends that have family around, we do it before or after the actual Christmas Day. The last couple of years in Grande Prairie we have found that there are others like us that don't have family around for Christmas, so we were family to each other during these days. Getting together on the days of Christmas makes it so much more celebratory and truly fills your sad, lonely soul with a bit of joy and extra love. Jesus gathered his 'family' around a table to eat quite often. Shouldn't we too gather our 'family' near and eat together? The best times of fellowship are usually found around a table of food ~ now, just how to learn not to over-eat. ha

I love hosting people in our home, so to take out a platter of cookies out of the freezer that are labelled "Christmas Eve" or "Christmas Day" or "Just in case" and share a cup of coffee or tea with the Christmas tree lit and the love story of Christmas being sung in carols over the iPod is creating a simple time of family and celebration.

Last year, and this year, the challenge seems to be in saying yes to only a few things. This is sooo difficult since there are so many great things to say yes to. Already, that is the greatest stress for me: the 'saying no' and the guilt when we do. Last year it got to be very overwhelming for our kids and I want to avoid that this year. I don't want it to be 'go-go-go'. I want it to be simple and enjoyable and filled with delight, not exhaustion and tantrums. I'm not sure how well we will do in that area, but it is on my mind a lot.

Here's to Simplifying Christmas, yet embracing family, friends and celebrations.

P.S. Here are a few recipes that are tried and true for us at Christmas:

Dressing/Stuffing

The years where there is only the stuffing from inside the turkey were always years where I wished there had been more. I could seriously pass on the potatoes and vegetables and just eat turkey and stuffing. So, here is a recipe that we use to ensure that there is enough dressing to even enjoy leftovers. It's so easy and so delicious.

2 loaves of white bread, cubed (the cheaper the better)
Cube the bread the night before and leave out on the counter in an uncovered bowl over night.

2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp poultry seasoning
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 1/3 cup margarine
1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
2 cups celery, chopped

Microwave all of the above ingredients until semi-cooked.

Add 2 cups of milk and heat through.

Cool, unless used immediately.

Mix the liquid mixture with the bread cubes. Place into a slow cooker on high for 2-2 1/2 hours or low for 6-8 hours. It really depends on the slow cooker. I take a spoon to lift the dressing off the sides of the slow cooker insert to make sure it is not getting too dark.

And how could I not share a favourite sweet recipe? These bars have to be made at least twice a season in our house. Someone seems to think they taste great straight out of the freezer. Perhaps I need to label the container 'spinach' instead of 'Oh Henry Bars'.

Oh Henry Bars
makes 5 dozen

In a saucepan over medium heat mix until dissolved:
1 1/2 cups corn syrup
3/4 cup white sugar

Remove from heat and add the following until creamy:
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups peanut butter

Add:
1 1/2 cups peanuts
1 1/2 cups cornflakes
4 1/2 cups rice crispies
Mix until well combined.  With wet hands, press into a large greased cookie sheet. Let set at least one hour or over night. Cut into 2"x3" bars.

Melt 1 1/2 lbs chocolate wafers or 2 Tbsp margarine, 1 Tbsp cocoa, 1 lb of chocolate chips.
Dip bars into the melted chocolate and place on wax paper to dry.

And of course, there are the cookies that need to be decorated by little hands, with too much icing and sprinkles, but just enough love:

Sour Cream Cookies

1 1/2 cups margarine
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs, beaten
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups sour cream
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
5 cups flour (add a little more if the dough is sticky)

Dissolve baking soda in sour cream (yes, there is a little chemical reaction-it's okay). Mix all ingredients together with the baking soda and sour cream mixture.  Chill the dough for about an hour.  Roll out, cut with your favourite Christmas shaped cookie cutters and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Ice with your favourite icing recipe in whatever colours fit your fancy. 

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