By Carrie London
What is better than a pine-scented home, a warm wood-burning fire, and the buzz of children laughing on a chilly winter day? Meaningful traditions unite us year after year, and the feeling of love and support diminish any anxiety arising throughout the season. It is, after all, about the little things we experience that bring everyone together. Amid all the bustle, it’s what I like to focus on. Here is a snapshot of the holidays with my loved ones.
Love Actually plays in the background. It’s my favorite movie this time of year—filled with light humor and storylines that the whole family can follow. The adults sip on a burgundy with notes of black currant and hints of spice while the children clutch their snacks and drink steaming cocoa from holiday cups. My husband, a wine aficionado, always selects the best for us. A melty, stinky cheese; thinly sliced baguette; and juicy grapes are arranged atop a wooden board on the coffee table. Food always brings us together. The oak wood ablaze in the hearth warms us as the bitter wind sweeps down the chimney, only to be beaten back by the sparking flames.
The following day greets us with sunshine and a crisp winter chill as we drive on worn, country roads to select a tree. I photograph every scenic backdrop along the way. We pull up in our pickup truck with kiddos strapped in, heater blasting, and A Dave Brubeck Christmas croons through the speakers. I love a jazzy tune. The little ones clop in too-big boots towards the biggest tree they see while we examine a symmetrical, smaller tree with mittened hands.
We snap a few photos to commemorate frolicking through the lot and then head back to the cottage. My husband carries the tree into the living room with effortless strength, and we empty boxes filled with glittering ornaments onto the springy, fragrant branches. Every year each of us gets a new special ornament to add to the tree. It is all about the little things. He hoists the smallest one high so that she can place the best part perfectly atop the tallest branch—the glistening star. Meanwhile, I continue documenting everything because I know our future selves, friends, and family alike will want to look back at these moments.
It’s Sunday, so we light the candles on the wreath. The scent of chocolate chip cookies baking dances throughout our home. A Dave Brubeck Christmas plays, again, but this time over our record player. The sound quality is amazing, and the kids love choosing from the stack of dusty holiday records. The adults always prefer jazzy classics.
My creativity as a mother has a moment to shine. Snowman-shaped crafts adorn the ground and tables as the children dart around laughing, dancing, and occasionally screeching. The decorated tree now stands in its rightful place by the window, the low sun of winter peeking through the spiky branches.
On the rare rainy day, the little ones put on their raincoats and wellies and dash out to find the biggest muddy puddle. We hurry to fill our tumblers with steaming lattes. The adventure turns into a nature walk filled with soggy leaves. Cheery belly laughs offer a contrast to the gloomy skies as we hike home to warm baths and snuggles in bed. Being out in nature always brings out the best in us.
My daughter inherited my love for baking. We make a simple recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Her favorite part is pouring the ingredients into the stand mixer. She adds two sticks of salted butter and a cup of light brown sugar, and then white sugar to the bowl. While those cream together, she pours in two eggs and two teaspoons of vanilla extract. She tells me that she only eats eggs when they’re in cookies. In a separate bowl, I have her mix three cups of flour, one teaspoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon of baking powder, and one teaspoon of salt. She slowly pours the dry ingredients into the stirring mixer. I love watching her tiny hands create something special.
The last—and best part—is pouring the package of chocolate chips in. We each sneak a few. Once everything is mixed, I help her roll the dough into balls and place them evenly spaced on a cookie sheet. They go into the hot, 375-degree oven for ten minutes.
Formalities are sprinkled between the casual, but joyful days. As we finish baking, the finest outfits saved for special occasions make their debut as loved ones are united after much time apart. Flickering candlelight brightens the room to reveal pressed napkins meticulously wrapped and rolled into polished silver rings, arranged neatly on cream-colored placemats. Salt cellars are filled with flaky sea salt for the thick-cut prime rib—a crimson wine decanting beside it.
After dinner, some cozy up with warm mugs of tea; others sip on boozy digestifs. We begin passing boxes wrapped in white craft paper embellished with thin velvet ribbon and fresh rosemary sprigs. Each package was identified by carefully written names, some with international postage from Oma and Opa waiting to be torn open by tiny hands.
Year after year, as those tiny hands grow, togetherness will continue to be the most important tradition of all. The seasons will change, and indulgence will take on new meanings, but uniting the family will always be a priority. All is calm; all is bright. May we all enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.
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