I don’t think I need to tell you that Christmas is in a couple weeks, as most people already have a countdown going. There are so many reasons to get excited for the holiday season; time with family, a new year to start over, fun traditions, or time off work/school (lets be honest, this is the biggest reason). I personally love the holiday season because the time off from school allows me to take part in my favorite traditions! I can guarantee, a lot of these traditions we probably share, but it’s what I like about each tradition that makes us different. As I always say, it’s the little things that bring me the most joy. Here are my top ten holiday traditions!
1. The Christmas tree
Nothing says Christmas time like a giant artificial tree. For me, this is all I’ve ever known, as my family doesn’t bother getting a real one. Just like my mom likes a dog that doesn’t shed, it goes for the Christmas tree too. While some people’s tradition is to go pick out a Christmas tree every year, my tradition is watching my dad struggle to put it together, get frustrated because the light strands don’t work from the year before, and then try to strategically place the pearls while balancing on the ladder. Of course, I don’t help with this part, because my favorite part is getting to put the ornaments on the tree. My Grandad loved to give us Hallmark ornaments every Christmas, which has resulted in two giant tubs of Hallmark ornaments that my brother and I insisted putting on every single one every year. We also had about two more tubs of homemade ornaments that we insisted had to be hung as well. By the time my brother and I were done hanging up all tubs of ornaments, there was no green that could be seen on the tree. It looked like an absolute mess, but that is how we liked it. There were so many music playing ones on there, that when we turned the tree on every morning, it sounded like a dying whale because of all the clashing sounds and songs. In all honesty, my favorite part about decorating the tree was not making a “Barbie ornaments” only section on the tree, but actually it was seeing how high I could climb up on the ladder before my parents told me to stop.
2. Making Christmas cookies
As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I cannot make or bake anything to save my life. My definition of making Christmas cookies is waiting until Mom mixed up the dough so I could decorate them before she put them in the oven. The sugar cookie recipe we use has been in the family for years, and they are to die for (which is why I eat them even though I’m gluten free). My brother and I would always designate a night, and a lot of counter space, to put on our fancy aprons, roll out the dough with our tiny rolling pins, and pick our favorite cookie cutters and sprinkles to decorate the cookies. A majority of the time, I made mine too thin so they would end up burnt (not surprised, burning things is my specialty). When it came to sprinkles, I liked to “color outside the lines” aka dump the sprinkles on everything, usually missing the cookie itself, and use all the wrong colors. When Mom wasn’t looking, I’d eat the dough because I personally think it tastes better than the cookie itself. My brother was definitely more cautious, as he and my mom would make more realistic looking cookies such as green mistletoe rather than my yellow wreath. By the time the oven timer went off, there would be flour all over the floor, all in my hair, on my clothes, and probably in more places it shouldn’t be. But I didn’t care, as my brown and crispy angels, yellow wreaths, blue Santas, and broken in half mitten cookies made me so proud of myself.
3. Button factory
To continue with the baking theme, my brother and I had one night a year where our parents let us be home by ourselves, and our kitchen turned into what we called “the button factory.” Being so young, I didn’t realize the sole purpose our parents allowed us to do this was so they could have a solid couple of hours to go Christmas shop for us since they never had time to. I didn’t catch onto this for a couple years, but in the mean time, I loved when my brother turned into the babysitter/chef for the night. For those of you who don’t know what our famous “buttons” are, it is a pretzel with a melted Hershey Hug, with a M&M on top. I took my job as pretzel organizer (put the pretzels on the baking sheet), and hershey hug un wrapper (the worst job of the whole process) very seriously. Christopher was the head chef; as he was the one in charge of the oven, timer, putting the M&M on the melted chocolate, and carrying the baking sheets to put them outside to harden up because I couldn’t be trusted with any of it. His only order for me was to not eat the supplies (I did when he wasn’t looking). To give perspective, I was young enough where I needed a stool to be able to reach the counter, nowadays, I’m allowed to use the oven. Looking back, I don’t know how my brother and I did this for so long, because we literally would do this for four or more hours straight. It was honestly like a Ford factory line, and I can now unwrap a Hershey Hug in record time. While our button factory has gone out of business, I still make buttons every year and give them to all my friends at college.
4. “The Drive”
This tradition is definitely a love hate relationship. Every year, we drive to Kentucky for Christmas to visit family. This drive is about 13 hours (on a good day). It usually takes about 15 in its entirety due to someone having to use the bathroom, wanting to stop at our favorite rest stop in Wisconsin just because we can, someone needing to stretch their legs, get gas, the snow storm that never fails to start the day we leave, grab a bite to eat, traffic downtown Illinois, or because someone forgot something at home. Fun fact, we turn around at least once every year because someone thinks they forgot something such as a hair brush (it was in the bag), forgot to turn the closet light off (it was off), or forgot to close the garage door (it was closed). Having to turn around has become a tradition in itself. Usually, my family rotates who drives, and ever since I got my license, they still have never asked me if I want to take a shift (I don’t know if I should appreciate this or be offended). The reason that I have loved the drive has transformed over the years. When I was in elementary school, I loved it because I got to sit with my stuffed animals and watch my favorite movies on the portable DVD player the whole way there, as well as play road trip games with Christopher. In middle school, I loved it because I got to text my friends (and crush) on my new Pantech Impact flip phone all day long. In high school I loved it because I listened to my IPod while pretending I was in dramatic music videos while looking out the window the whole way there (I’m not the only one who went through this phase). Now, I love it because I can sleep, read anything besides a textbook, pet Gracie, and take an actual break and relax, all day long. The “hate” part of the drive is always the drive home because all the Christmas festivities are over, making the drive home seem so much longer!
5. A Kentucky Christmas
Of course once we get to Kentucky, the traditions don’t stop. It isn’t Christmas for me unless I am at my Gram’s house in Danville, KY with my cousins Fielden and Logan. That being said, I am also used to a “green Christmas” since it is usually mid 40s that time of the year. Every year, the family gathers in a circle in the living room with all of our presents sorted out to each person. We then proceed to open presents, one at a time, going from youngest to oldest. Ever since we were little, this came with the process of looking at the tag and reading who the gift was from, asking if it was ok to open (some had to be left to open at the end), opening it, acting pleased no matter what the gift was, saying thank you, then crumbling up the paper and trying to shoot it into the trash bag. This cycle lasted for hours. Usually by the end, Fielden and I would have a new pair of matching cousin pajamas, new Hallmark ornaments from Grandad, paper everywhere because we had no aim, and we would be exhausted. No matter what the year, or how old we continue to get, it has never changed, and probably never will.
6. Christmas Dinner
Christmas dinner at Gram’s is also a given when we are in KY. Southern cooking is on a whole different level than the rest of the country. And Gram’s cooking is on whole different level than southern cooking. To sum it up: it beats Thanksgiving by a landslide. The table is usually filled with dishes to the point where there is no room to put one more thing on it. Christmas dinner at Gram’s typically consists of turkey, country ham, mashed potatoes, homemade macaroni, dressing (stuffing to you northerners), gravy, Burke’s Bakery buttery dinner rolls, broccoli casserole (my favorite), cranberry jello, sweet potato casserole, pretzel salad: pineapple mixture+whipped cream+ crushed pretzels, banana croquettes: banana covered in mayo and rolled in peanuts (not as gross as it sounds), Chess Pie, Derby Pie, fruit cake, rum cake, cookies, etc..I could go on but that would take another paragraph. When I was little, I would always end my meal with a cup of boiled custard as pictured above. While I usually could never eat everything because there was so much, I eventually got around to having a taste of everything due to leftovers for DAYS. It is going to have to take a Christmas miracle for me to follow my gluten/dairy free diet this year!
7. Candlelight service
Attending the Christmas candlelight church service at Gram’s church with the whole family is another tradition we take part of every year. Not going to lie, most years I am counting the minutes until it is over just because I’m not used to how traditional the service is, and the southern accent of the pastor is so soothing it is inevitable to keep my eyes open. My favorite part is getting to light our individual candles while singing silent night, and the lights are shut off. I will never forget how most times, my Grandad’s voice was the most prominent, and while he is no longer with us, I still imagine his voice every year we attend this service. I also love getting all dressed up for this service, and getting the yearly sibling picture with Christopher in front of their giant Christmas tree. Southerners, especially my Gram’s friends, give many more compliments than northerners, and I definitely have never minded the extra confidence boost from when the other church members tell me how “darling” I look.
Yes I am 20, and yes, Santa still comes to visit the Casey kids every year. When I was little, seeing all the gifts in the morning was one of my favorite parts of the tradition, but not all. Every year, I tried to stay up late and would sneak out of bed to catch Santa in the act. As I have mentioned, I am not a night owl, so my efforts to catch Santa usually concluded around 11. Waking up Christmas morning and realizing that I once again failed to stay up, it led me to sneaking around to try to see what I got. At the Casey household, we weren’t (and still aren’t) allowed to go see what we got until the whole family was up, and Mom had the video camera out. I don’t know what it was about trying to sneak around, I guess I liked the adrenaline rush of trying to do something I wasn’t supposed to be. Again, I never succeeded with my mission because my dad would stop me and make me go sit in the office with my brother until he told us it was ok to come out. Over the years, I have gotten gymnastics mats, balance beams, and a whole bunch of other big things that left me baffled as to how Santa fit them on his sleigh. I also fan girled over the half eaten carrots sitting on the table for Rudolph to eat. Mom never let me keep them as an artifact. As I have gotten older, a lot of things have started to become clear to me such as why Santa looks different every year, how my parents knew so much about Santa, how my Mom knew where Santa got everything, but the one thing I still don’t know, is if my mom or dad ate the carrots every year.
9. Casey Christmas
Having family in two states has its perks. We celebrate with my mom’s family in KY, but we also celebrate with my dad’s family every year here in MN before we make the drive. The dynamics of each celebration are polar opposites, but I love them both. My favorite part of the Casey Christmas, is our annual Yankee Swap. There is a “magic head scratcher” that makes an appearance in the swap every year, and has become an inside joke to the family. At this point, I think everyone has had the head scratcher at least once. While a lot of people’s favorite part of the swap is getting the gifts, or the game itself, my favorite part is everyone roasting and making fun of each other. Usually, I end up with the gift that our family brings because I help pick it out and don’t want anyone else to have it since I like it for myself. Usually there is a rule about picking your own gift, but everyone lets it slide since I am the youngest. While in the past there have been fights over fruit cake, electric candles, a flashlight, and some feelings were hurt along the way as no one wanted the assorted soaps, the night ends after the third round of goodbyes and everyone is happy again.
10. New Years
When I think of New Years, I imagine sparkling grape juice, the big lit up ball, and writing down the wrong date on my homework assignments for a solid month after that night. Little Lauren didn’t really understand the concept of New Years, as I always asked my mom what date New Years was on. For years, I would be more excited to watch the Disney channel exclusive that was happening that night rather than ringing in the new year. I was mostly in it for the sparkling grape juice! Now, I spend this night watching it all happen in New York, and all my favorite artists lip syncing my favorite songs. Traditions have been spotty over the years, as most of my years this night was spent in Kentucky (I’d make the joke back to my friends back in MN that I beat them to the new year because we were an hour ahead). The last couple years, I’ve spent it in Minnesota with my best friends. Even though location hasn’t stayed the same, the sparkling grape juice, good company, and “see you next year” jokes have.
As we begin the most wonderful time of the year, I can only hope that everyone has traditions like I do that automatically bring them back to their childhood, or bring them happiness to transition them into the clean slate of 2019. It’s the little things like climbing to the top step of the ladder, eating a burnt angel cookie, successfully shooting wrapping paper into the trash bag, roasting the uncle that got the head scratcher, seeing a half eaten carrot, getting a compliment from a church lady, getting to sit for longer than an hour, and sneaking a Hershey Hug without being caught, that have brought me so much joy over the years.
Happy tree decorating, cookie making, and finals taking!