Nostalgic Holidays A-Z

When I think back on my childhood Christmas there are certain words and memories that stay with me most throughout the years. Silver tinsel, Santa Claus wrapping paper, sticky square bottomed bows, Charlie Brown carols on my tape player, my first Cabbage Patch Kid, warming up by the wood burning stove, and watching my mom unwrap the gift I bought her each year at the jewelry counter at JCPenney.

Over the last two decades, I have had the chance to mother my three bears on Christmas morning. What a gift. In fact, really the only gift I need (isn’t it funny how things change?) In years past, I have sat down with the boys at our kitchen table and we have talked about words that come to mind when we think of our Christmas here at The Smith Homestead. Not the department store’s projected holiday perfection, but rather what makes Christmas uniquely ours. Memories and thoughts we carry with us year after year in anticipation of the season.

Here is our list. Does yours will look much different (or maybe very similar)? I’d love to know.


Advent Calendar – There are some really inventive Advent calendars nowadays. We stay pretty old school with ours (a throw back to my childhood days) and buy the cardboard picture, perforated sort with waxy chocolate behind each door.


Board Games – This time of year is board game season with puzzles, Scrabble and Monopoly being the usual suspects.


Cocoa – Hot Cocoa is not a luxury this time of year, but a necessity in our opinion. For years I knew hot cocoa as Hershey’s syrup mixed with milk and popped into the microwave. That was until my dear mother-in-law introduced me to the homemade version. There are thousands of delicious concoctions, but on a cold winter afternoon, nothing beats the recipe on the back of the Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa box.


Decorated Christmas Paper – One of our favorite ways to wrap gifts is to buy a big roll of brown paper (sold at hardware stores) and let the kids decorate each piece before we wrap gifts. They write notes, draw pictures, use stamps and even paint. Once the gift is wrapped, we tie it with a festive bow. It’s not only personalized and unique but a great conversation piece.


Evergreen – The smell of evergreen might literally be the official smell of Christmas. Although we don’t buy an evergreen Christmas tree (that’s a long story involving a bug infested tree during my year in Mississippi I can tell you about over coffee someday) we do bring elements of greenery into our home with a swag on the mantle and wreath on the door.


Fireplace – It’s a shame every home isn’t built with a chimney. Our fireplace is the center of the home in the winter months and especially around the holidays. Don’t fret if your home doesn’t have one, candles lit on a cold winter night still create that sense of sparkle and warmth.


Gingerbread Houses – Lord help us, we try. The architectural drafts are precise and the baking of the elements looks so promising. And although half of the candy gets eaten before the project starts, there’s still enough to make the houses showpieces. But alas, despite our grand efforts, our gingerbread houses resemble gingerbread earthquake victims. Thankfully, we are able to laugh at this yearly mishap. It’s maybe even become an endearing part of our holiday ritual.


Handmade Gifts –I am a lover of giving and receiving handmade gifts. There are so many great websites, hobby stores and books that making a gift to give has become incredibly easy, affordable and rewarding. Give it a try this year.


Ives – Burl Ives that is. Christmas music starts in October at our house - although Burl Ives' voice is a year-round treat. The library has a great selection of Christmas music and online music sites like Spotify and Pandora will give your house the sounds of the season for hours.


Jars of Cordial- Speaking of handmade gifts, homemade cordial (link here to my recipe) is a great gift that needs no wrapping. 


Keepsake Journal – Years ago, I bought a Christmas keepsake journal at a gift shop. Its red leather bound with fancy gold script writing on the front. Each year, I fill out the guided sections it lays out. Holiday visits and visitors, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Christmas Dinner, Special Gifts and Things to remember are what I record. You need not one of these fancy leather bound books to start recording your own holiday memories. Any designated notebook will do.


Linen – Some homes have red and green, others gold or silver. Here at our house, we use yards of natural linen. Linen is so versatile that it makes a perfect material for a Christmas table runner, handmade ornaments and stockings hung with care.


Marshmallows –When the weather turns cold, we turn our attention to deliciously sweet marshmallow (homemade) fluff throughout the winter months.


Neighbors – Christmastime is a perfect excuse to reach out, extend a warm hello, drop off a holiday card and even a gift of cookies to the neighbors around you.


Open House – We spend much of our holiday season at home playing games, baking and staying warm. But we also can’t wait to pile in the car and head out to a few holiday events around town. I’d encourage you to find a few festivities to put on your rotating holiday schedule. The city, local shop owners and restaurateurs are busy this time of year creating atmospheres that boost the holiday spirit for everyone.


Photographs –Don’t forget, photographs are an important part of memory making. Make time this holiday season to pull out the old photo books and take a walk down memory lane.


Quilts – You can’t take two steps into our home without seeing a quilt and each has a story to tell. The fragile ones get draped on the old ladder in our living room while others are used almost hourly in these long winter months. As I sit here typing in my studio, I have two nearby and one across my lap to keep me warm. I love how the older and more tattered they become, their warmth and comfort grow.


Record Player – Last Christmas, our son asked for a record player. He counts Frank Sinatra as his favorite singer, so this gift request did not surprise us in the least.  The record player has become a treasured part of our home and this year we’ve been scouring the local thrift stores for some great holiday records to play during the long Scrabble game sessions ahead.


Snowflakes in the Windows – Paper cut-out snowflakes are a Christmas decorating must. We hang the snowflakes with fishing line in our windows, from the Christmas tree limbs and above our kitchen table from the ceiling. It’s such a simple idea but it adds just a little extra boost of whimsy and wonder to the standard holiday décor.


Turkey & Wild Rice Soup – A good soup recipe needs to be a part of every person’s cooking repertoire. When I asked my eldest what words he thinks of when he thinks about Christmas he said “Turkey and Wild Rice Soup.” The recipe was one that just came together one snowy night a few years back and has now become the most requested meal around our family dinner table this time of year.


Upside Down Cake – My mother wasn’t known for being much of a baker, but she could make a pretty stellar Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Around the holidays, an upside down cake baked in a deep cast iron skillet is usually the dessert of choice at the end of a cold day. It’s such a cinch to pull together, bakes incredibly fast, and should (I highly recommend) be eaten warm with a dollop of whipped cream. Click here for my favorite recipe. 


Village Scenes – I am a sucker for those ceramic village scenes. Thankfully, I think the wave of popularity passed back in the mid 90’s so I have a plethora of choices at yard sales, thrift store and rummage sales throughout the year. They may be a bit kitschy, but for us they have become a fond and anticipated part of our holiday décor.


Winter Walks – It’s easy to get out and take a stroll on a sunny, 75-degree day. On a gray skied 28-degree day with slushy brown sidewalks, it’s a little less appealing. Nonetheless, we bundle up, take in the neighborhood Christmas decor, the smells meandering from others kitchens, and a friendly chat with the occasional passerby. It also gives us a great excuse to make yet another pot of hot cocoa and snuggle under the quilt when we get home.


Xmas Tree (fake) – Yes, with all of the handmade/homemade hullaballoo I prescribe to, we climb up into our garage rafters and pull down the old boxed Christmas tree year after year. I love to visit homes that have those effervescent evergreen trees though. The smell is remarkable. So if you have one, let me know. I’ll likely be over soon.


Yorkshire Pudding – On Christmas afternoon, I enjoy cooking a memorable meal. The menu always changes but for this special meal, I pull out the “fancy” recipes that stand the test of time. A few years ago, I started making a traditional English dinner, complete with Yorkshire pudding. This year, I haven’t a clue what will appear on our Christmas table, but fingers crossed, it will be deliciously memorable.


Zest – I lived in Florida for a few years and one of my favorite things about winter in Florida was the abundance of citrus. We would step out our front door during the winter months and pick dozens of varieties of oranges, lemons and grapefruits. Now living up north, we still eat and use lots of citrus, especially around the holidays. Each morning I put orange segments in a saucepan with water and a dash of cinnamon and turn the stove burner on low. The smell that permeates the house is undoubtedly, the smell of….Christmas.