Yay! Christmas is almost here! Most of us have traditions that we look forward to every year, and so do my family and friends! But with us, well, traditions aren’t so, uh, traditional! So here are some fun and offbeat things my circle of people do every year!
The Fruitcake Mailed ‘Round the World
Warning: all names have been changed to protect the guilty! Long about 1983, my friend Gene was living in Antarctica (which is a story in itself). As a joke that year, our mutual friend, Bill sent Gene a fruitcake for Christmas, because, when you’re stuck in Antarctica, the last thing you want is fruitcake for Christmas – ick!
Note: In case you’re not familiar with fruitcake – it’s a cake made with chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts, and spices, and sometimes soaked in alcohol. It weighs about 100 pounds. While fruitcake may be quite delicious in some countries, in the U.S., the kind we’re used to is barely edible. If you were starving on a deserted island and a fruitcake washed ashore, you’d probably send it right back into the ocean.
Anyway, the following Christmas, what shows up in Bill’s mail? A package from our friend Gene who’s now living in New Zealand. Bill opens it up and low and behold – it’s the fruitcake he’d sent to Gene last year. Well, that started a full on fruitcake war to (1) send it back to the other person and (2) send it back to the other person without them realizing they’re getting the fruitcake. Over the years, the fruitcake has been incorporated into a floral center piece and delivered by a florist; wrapped in an expensive wine box and given to Gene by his boss as a Christmas “bonus”; hidden in a case of beer, and even delivered to Bill’s unsuspecting mother-in-law! So far, the same fruitcake (more or less) has been traversing the globe for nearly 34 years!
The Signing of the Table Cloth
In our family, the signing of the table cloth is similar in importance to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and it’s my favorite holiday memory and tradition! My aunt and uncle were very social and always up for spontaneous fun. For example, in 1966, we started signing our Christmas tablecloth (I’m not even sure exactly how this happened)! Initially, it was a spur of the moment thing, but over the years, it became THE family Christmas tradition, complete with a list of rules about who can sign, and in what order:
Rule 1 Title: Each year is noted and has a title (well, for the most part). The title is usually something significant that’s happened in the world and/or in our family. The first year, there was a Christmas blizzard, so it was named “The Big Snow.” One year, we made the mistake of naming it with initials and exponents and now nobody can remember what it means!
Rule 2 Eat: In order to be eligible to sign, you must eat Christmas meal. On. The. Tablecloth. No stopping by just to sign and then dashing off.
Rule 3 Sign: You must sign according to age. Oldest to youngest. NO exceptions. If two people are the same age, birthdays must be declared in front of everyone in order to determine who signs first. For years, I was always the youngest. Me and the two dogs. At least I edged out the dogs to sign above them, but only just...
Oh, and you also have to sign big enough for Rule 4…..
Rule 4 Embroider: For years, my aunt would embroider the signatures onto the tablecloth after Christmas (there could be anywhere from 20 to 100 people signing), launder it then put it away for the next year. My aunt actually had to sew on "additions" to the table cloth, since the tradition has been going on for so long. We’ve fallen off a bit over the years with the embroidery, so lately, we’ve signed with a permanent magic marker.
Cool family fact: In 1996, on the 30th anniversary of the “signing of the tablecloth” my aunt and uncle had an open house, inviting everyone who ever signed the tablecloth to celebrate and sign (and there were a lot of people, since everyone was always welcome for Christmas dinner).
There’s even an ongoing "battle" as to who will inherit the tablecloth. Rumor had it that my aunt and uncle even had written into their wills who would inherit the tablecloth…
The most “normal” of the traditions of my family and friends, is that every year my aunt and I baked and decorated Santa cookies. The cookies themselves are a basic sugar cookie, but after you bake the cookies, the decorating is a crazy choreographed dance of multi-phase decorating.
The hat and nose: Start by “painting” the red part of the hat and a nose, using an egg white wash. Then, sprinkle on red decorative sugar to complete. Let it dry before starting the next step.
The eyes: For years, my aunt and I had an ongoing artistic “eye feud”. She insisted that we use raisins for eyes, but I preferred using chocolate chip morsels. In the end, we called a truce. So, after you bake the cookies, use a bit of icing to “glue” the “eyes” to Santa’s face. When I baked and decorated them at my house, my husband used to help put on the chocolate chip eyes, but eventually, I had to fire him as my “Santa eye installer” – he kept eating the eyes and I ended up with a lot of “blind” Santas.
The beard and the hat: Spread vanilla icing for the beard and the white part of hat and press in shredded coconut. Let it set up a bit.
After you’re done, wrap each one in a fold-over sandwich bag and tie it off with ribbon, curling the end. One year, I made over 300 Santa cookies!
Years later, I carried on the tradition with two of my nieces and nephews. We’d get together just to bake and decorate the Santa cookies. Eventually, I passed on to them the recipe and my special Santa cookie cutters that my aunt gave to me. Now they carry on the tradition that I had with my aunt.
Do you have any fun Christmas traditions? Tell me about them on Facebook or in the comment section below!