Christmas holds many fond memories. When I was a child in the United States, my English mother continued to celebrate Christmas as though we still lived in England.
We placed our tree in front of the living room window on Christmas Eve. We spent the evening decorating the tree and the tabletops in the living room. After dinner, my dad read the Christmas story from Luke. It’s a story that never grows old, and my husband and I continue that tradition, even if it’s just the two of us.
“I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” —Charles Dickens
At midnight, my parents bundled us up, and we went to church for the midnight service. It was the only night of the year when we were allowed to stay up so late. The church was aglow with candlelight and the fragrance of evergreens. It usually snowed, so the roads were often slippery and somewhat scary.
We kids loved seeing our breath so frosty while we sang Christmas carols on the way to the service. Christmas morning, we found our stockings, which we hung on the ends of our beds the night before, filled with apples, oranges, nuts, and little treasures. The “real “ presents were under the tree that we opened after breakfast.
Since my mother kept Christmas very English, less emphasis was placed on Christmas Eve, as everything happens on Christmas Day. We started with a rather large breakfast and then gathered around the Christmas tree as everyone took turns opening presents.
Christmas dinner was a grand affair and served early afternoon. My mother would usually invite those who were alone or had no family close by.
She made a giant turkey with all the trimmings like roasted vegetables, cranberry sauce, Brussel sprouts, mincemeat pies, and plum pudding (Christmas pudding).
Our Christmas dinner always included Christmas crackers. They are cardboard rolls wrapped in fancy paper with toys and trinkets inside. Each end has a pull-tab, and when it’s pulled, it makes a firecracker noise. Out pours some small toys and a paper hat. Everyone at the table wears a hat during dinner.
For many years, my aunt in England sent us our yearly Christmas crackers in her package. Now they are easily bought in many department and discount stores here in the US. Mother reminded us that if we were home in England for Christmas, at 3:00 pm, we would all gather around the radio and listen to the Queen’s yearly Christmas broadcast. Then we would have our Christmas tea.
However, as much as I enjoy reproducing an English Christmas at my home, I find the weeks leading up to Christmas are now more important to me. I began my tradition about 25 years ago. I invite my neighbors and friends to a Christmas tea.
I deliver the invitations the week before Thanksgiving and have the tea the first weekend in December. Despite living in the same neighborhood, we are all busy, so this may be our only time together during the year. In the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we have forgotten the real meaning of Christmas.
My Christmas tea allows us to catch our breath and savor a time of relaxation.
We can reflect on what Christmas means, a season of hope, although less emphasized in our times, that God will bring peace to our world.
While this past year will have changed many of our Christmas celebrations plans, I think traditions are still essential. I won’t be having 20 neighborhood ladies sharing a full Afternoon Christmas tea, but just a few friends gathering around the fireplace with a few Christmas cookies and a pot of Christmas tea. I still get excited when I pull out my Christmas teacups from storage and place them on a tray ready to serve with a few cookies.
It will look a lot different, but as winter and the Christmas season settles around us, I can still share the wonder of Christmas. We can always take time to embrace this wonderful and magical season. It’s still a season of remembering what we can do and not focusing on what we can’t do.
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
We can still bundle up and get the family to cut down a Christmas tree and relive beautiful memories as we hang the ornaments. We can even bake our favorite Christmas cookies and share them with the neighbors. Our shopping for the perfect gift will be more comfortable as most of us have resorted to online shopping.
We can still write Christmas cards and send a letter to our friends in faraway places. We can even celebrate with Christmas crackers. And as this year comes to a close, we can still live out our traditions or memorable moments around the Christmas tree.
We will do it differently. We will make intentional moments, knowing this, too, shall pass. 2020 is coming to a close, and 2021 is a new year. We remember that Christmas is part of our heritage and our faith. We recognize that all is calm, and all is bright. Savor the moments and remember the real meaning of Christmas.
“Joy to the world! The Lord is Come!”
I have made many versions of shortbread cookies. This recipe is my favorite, as it is so quick and easy. My English friend Veronica shared this with me this past year, and I know you will love it as much as I do. Shortbread is a must for everyone’s Christmas and especially Christmas teas.
- 1 ½ cup flour
- One stick butter (I use Irish butter)
- ¼ cup sugar
Preheat oven to 325ºF
Combine all three ingredients. You can use a food processor and make two batches.
Press the dough down firmly into a 9” pie pan until reasonably smooth.
Use a fork and mark around the edge of the dough with the fork tines.
Prick around the dough with a fork.
Bake at 325ºF for about 40 minutes until light golden brown.
While still hot, sprinkle with sugar (red or green is lovely for Christmas) and carefully score into 8 or 12 wedges.
Cool on rack