Insights from CommonGround volunteer Sarah Kern on holiday traditions around the farm. From decorations, favorite recipes, and reminiscence of warm holiday memories. Read more from Sarah below.
I’m a cliché…like millions of women, the holiday season is my favorite time of the year. Since I was little, it has always been special – love the lights, the presents, and the food. But since having children, the Christmas season has turned truly magical. I have three kids, ranging in age from two to ten. Sometimes I think we go overboard with all of the festivities and traditions but we all enjoy celebrating. I’d love to share a few of our favorites with you.
Our holiday season typically starts with decorating the house. Each of the kids has a miniature Christmas tree in their room they are free to cover with whatever ornaments they choose. They each have quite a collection of ornaments since we gift them one each year – themed with whatever hobby or character or show they happen to love that year. I know how cozy it feels to curl up with a blanket in the recliner next to the tree at night, so I love that they are able to do the same in their beds at night. I enjoy decorating the tree and mantle each year – usually choosing a different theme, typically making new ornaments for the tree. This year, we made salt dough gingerbread men and bells.
Salt Dough Ornaments
2 c. flour 1 c. salt 1 c. cold water
Mix flour and salt together in a bowl. Slowly mix water, a few tablespoons at a time, into flour mixture until dough is smooth and easy to handle. Knead the dough for 10 minutes and let rest for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Roll dough out, using flour as needed, and cut shapes out with cookie cutters. Bake in the preheated oven until dry and hard, about 2 hours. Allow to cool completely. Leave out overnight to dry completely.
The outside of the house is lit up in basic red lights but I also put together my own spruce top pots with trimmings found around the farm – different varieties of greens, pine cones, deer sheds, dogwood branches, and birch poles. Most of the outdoor decorations started their life as useful farm items but have been converted into my holiday décor.
Included in the photos below are old milk cans, milk separators, and old water trough. The sled was an old treasure found in the machine shed from when my grandpa was small.
Another favorite decoration is simple! But it requires a trip to visit Santa. Every year we display the kid’s first visit to Santa picture when they were teeny tiny and the most recent visit. It is bittersweet to look back through all of the pictures when we add the newest one in.
Next up on the agenda is holiday baking. There are a number of treats I only make at Christmas time. The list usually includes fudge, peppermint patties, gingersnaps, and chocolate dipped pretzels. Two of my favorites are shown below. The recipe for my grandma’s Peanut Blossoms is below. These were my favorite treats she made and she frequently baked them and mailed them to school for me. It warms my heart to look upon this recipe in her handwriting and picture her mixing up a batch. I’ve had these many times but there is no recipe as good as this one! The next recipe is from a dear friend and is so delicious.
1 ½ sticks butter, melted 1 egg 1 c brown sugar ¼ c molasses 2 ¼ c flour 2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp cinnamon ½ tsp ground cloves ½ tsp ground ginger ½ tsp salt
Melt butter and let cool. Once cooled, combine with brown sugar, egg, and molasses. Mix until smooth. In another bowl, combine flour, soda, spices, and salt. Sift dry ingredients into the wet ingredients slowly and mix. Chill in the fridge for one hour. With your hands, shape dough into walnut sized balls and roll in white sugar. Place on a cookie sheet and press balls down lightly with the bottom of a glass. Bake at 350 for 9-10 minutes. Once cooled, drizzle white chocolate over the top.
Eileen’s Peanut Blossoms
1 ½ sticks butter, melted 1 egg ½ c brown sugar ½ c white sugar 1 egg 1 tsp vanilla 1 tsp soda 1 tsp salt 1 ¾ c flour
Cream the wet ingredients (top half) together and then add the dry (bottom half) of the ingredients. Form into balls and roll in white sugar. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Press a chocolate star in the middle and bake for an additional 3 minutes.
Growing up, my mom had a large collection of Christmas books – all hardcover picture books. We have a similar tradition with our kids. At the end of November, I pull out my baskets of Christmas books and they sit next to the fireplace all December. The kids get so excited because the books are almost like a present all over again because they haven’t seen them for a whole year. Every Christmas Eve, they receive a new book to add to the collection. Our collection ranges from old classics like “The Grinch,” “Polar Express” and “Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree” to some new favorites like “The Not Very Merry Pout Pout Fish Christmas” and “An Otis Christmas.”
The grand finale on Christmas Eve is making a quick trip out to the deck to throw homemade reindeer food off across the snow. A batch is super simple – oats and glitter! You can add a little tag with this saying on it – “Sprinkle on the lawn at night, the moon will make it sparkle bright. As Santa’s reindeer fly and roam, this will guide them to your home.” We’ve never left cookies for Santa – just tried to bribe his reindeer.
I love the Christmas season for so many reasons. Kids have too many worries and so many things in this world weigh heavy on them and they have burdens we never needed to worry about growing up. Making the season magical is such a special way I can lift those burdens from them and let them soak in the magic of all things Christmas.