Visions of Sugarplums…

Christmas is right around the corner, so close I can almost taste it. It tastes of gingerbread, eggnog, Elf the movie, giving, spirit, and family. Holidays are such a great time to reflect and think upon things. Holidays are also a time for traditions (old ones and making new ones), sharing stories of past Christmas’ or stories from generations past, watching favorite Christmas movies, going to see The Nutcracker Ballet or better yet, The Rockettes, singing along to your favorite Christmas songs, and shopping for that perfect gift.

One thing I love about this time of the year are the traditions and stories. There are only certain things that my family eats or does at Christmas time. Each year I also hear new stories not just about past Christmas’, but stories of my grandparents growing up or my parents growing up. I get to know them better and it makes me appreciate my heritage and upbringing even more. That is what I want to share with you, my readers, my friends, passer byers….I want to share with some of my traditions, stories, and favorite Christmas things.

1) Mimi’s Gingerbread

This is what I look forward to each and every Christmas. While I could eat it all year long, I don’t. It wouldn’t feel right. I wouldn’t anticipate it and savor each piece of this glorious gingerbread.  My Mimi, or for those of you who aren’t Southern, great-grandmother, was a fantastic cook. She had her specialties: boiled custard, applesauce cake, tea cakes, and GINGERBREAD! This just isn’t any kind of gingerbread. Hers is the old fashioned kind. It is so temperamental and it only works for certain cooks (most of her recipes don’t taste the same unless she does it) but fortunately my mother has taught me well, and she was taught by Mimi and I was brought up in the kitchen with both of them as well. Mimi’s gingerbread is written on an old piece of yellow notebook paper. The paper is so old, it is falling apart. Her handwriting is hard to read, written in red ink pen. When my mother and I would make it, Mom called it out and read it as I prepared it. Each year we would make this for my Uncle Jim (Mimi’s son) and my Mom’s two brothers. We would carefully mix all the ingredients together and put it in the oven. This was the hardest part believe it or not. You have to watch this gingerbread like no one’s business. If you over cook it, it is dry and crumbly. It doesn’t always cook the hour it says. See what I mean by temperamental. If you get it correct though, it is worth it. The gingerbread has texture of a bread but eats like cake. We would always serve it with whip cream. Yum!

Two years ago I was diagnosed with gluten/oat/dairy/nut  food allergies around August/September. By the time December came around I still was new to this whole lifestyle change.  When gingerbread time came, I was sad. How was I to eat one of my favorite Christmas foods? Off to google I went. I came across this Gluten Free Old Fashioned Gingerbread recipe. I read the ingredient list. Everything was the same as Mimi’s. I read it and re-read it. Is was too good to be true. Could this be my Christmas gingerbread? I decided I wanted to make it for Christmas Eve dinner. I am always in charge of desserts for get together’s (I LOVE to bake cakes). My Mom and I had a back up in case this failed. I made and it my o my word! It tasted just like hers! My family and I couldn’t believe it! Now I can still enjoy this part of my Christmas festivities every year and keep a part of my Mimi with me.

2) Christmas Movies, and by that I mean the classics

Who doesn’t love Christmas movies? Especially the original claymation Rudolph. I adored that movie growing up and still do. Though I don’t get to watch it as much as I would like to, it still has a deep place rooted in me. I still sing a long to ALL of the songs. Just today I heard “We are Santa’s Elves” and couldn’t help but smile. Who remembers the original Frosty? O cartoons. Both of these movies I watched growing up on a VHS that had been copied from a TV. Yes that is right. A complete “pirate” thing there. My grandfather use to record my favorite movies and shows from the TV onto the VCR (but honestly who didn’t do that back in the day?). I had a VHS of just Christmas movies. Rudolph and Frosty were both on there. I wore that VHS out!

As I grew older, I became fond of other Christmas movies. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation anyone? Elf with Will Ferrell? Do I really need to say more? Who wouldn’t like reindeer eggnog cups or white loafers for Christmas? “I like to smile. Smiling is my favorite”. “Buddy the elf, what is your favorite color?”.  “Have you seen these toilets they’re ginormous!”.

For those of you who follow musicals and Bing Crosby, two words: White Christmas. Don’t the best things happen when you are dancing? Without a doubt, some of the best choreography EVER made for movies. Check out these two clips (and if you are a Martha Graham fan, Youtube the “Choreography” number):

The Best Things HappenWhen You’re Dancing:

Mandy:

3) Candlelight Services

For those who are not familiar with this, a candlelight service is where a church holds a special service with no lights. The sanctuary is lit up with candles. Sometimes even the Church body will hold their own individual candle as well. This is a truly a magical service. It is without a doubt one of the most peaceful and moving experiences. You are so focused on the message, the words the Lord is pouring out because it is dark. It is hard to get distracted. Most of the time in these services the focus is on the God presenting the greatest gift to Earth, His son Jesus and the gift Jesus gives to us. Eternal life. In addition to those gifts, we are to give the world the gift of light, love, and truth. It is a time to refocus and reflect on the greatest gift. I was bummed this year that the church I go to had a candlelight service on Christmas Eve and I couldn’t go because I would be back home with my family. But then I found out I am going to Midnight Mass with my mother-in-law and hubby. A tradition of theirs. I couldn’t be more excited!

4) Angel Trees

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t do an angel tree or some form of buying toys/books/clothes for some organization that gives it to kids in need. Growing up I loved to go to the Salvation Army Angel tree and pick out someone my age and shop for them. It was my chance to give gifts I would be getting or possibly get and share it with someone. I get a Barbie, they get a Barbie! Make up and fun lotions. Lip smackers in all flavors. There were times I participated in Operation Christmas Child. You were given a shoe box and you pile it up with all you can that will fit in a shoe box. That shoe box is then shipped throughout America or overseas. What is great about this tradition, is that it is something my husband and I have continued to do. Ever since we started dating we have done some sort of give back. We reason it this way: we aren’t going to have kids so why not do a few angels. Give kids a Christmas. We are blessed with resources and let’s pour it out on others. This year we didn’t have time to adopt an angel so every chance we got to donate something at a register we did.  For example, some little one at the Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City is getting a copy of Amelia Bedelia (the first book I ever read). I hope they love her antics as much as I did when I was little kid.

5) Nutcrackers

How can I not post about The Nutcracker and my obsession with nutcrackers! I adore Nutcrackers. I have ornaments, and non ornament Nutcrackers. One of my former bosses gave me a Nutcracker that is a baker for Christmas/Graduation one year. If I could, I would decorate everything with them. Also, as a dancer I have an interesting relationship with The Nutcracker. I love it. I hate it. This year I am performing in my first Nutcracker since I was 16. I am blessed with the opportunity to choreograph/direct/and perform one of my dream roles: Spanish/Chocolate.  One day I hope to take my better half to New York at Christmas time and see The New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker and The Rockettes.

6) Christmas Trees

Fat trees are my favorite.  Short fat ones with multi-colored lights. I look forward to decorating a tree each and every year. Christmas trees fill your home with a lovely scent and just get you in the Christmas spirit. Digging through ornament boxes opens up your soul to memories and fun times in your life.  Homemade ornaments pull at your heartstrings and make you smile.  One thing, they have to be real. A Christmas tree isn’t the same if it is fake. Sad for my sister though, little miss is allergic to them.

9) It is the Hughes Family Christmas!

Growing up my family would record on one of those dinosaur camcorders, our Christmas eve celebrations. We would open our gifts on Christmas Eve and Mom would record it. Then Dad would record it when Mom opened her gifts. I was always responsible for the introduction on the video (must be pne of the reasons why I am so comfortable in front of camera).It would go something like this: “It is Christmas Eve *insert year* and *then I would say something cutesy, twirl around, or do whatever I felt like*”. As we opened each gift Mom would do a close up of us opening it, say who it was from, and then capture our reactions.  It was great to look back on those old videos. Us wearing tacky Christmas sweaters, Dad wearing the same flannel shirt every year (until about 10 years ago, he wore the same flannel shirt every Christmas! Even before my sister and I was born), and our cats rolling around in gift wrap.

In addition to opening our gifts on Christmas Eve, we would have a big family dinner. It wasn’t your typical holiday fare. My mom and I would think of fun stuff to eat. We have done lasagna, chili, duck, we are doing BBQ ribs this year. On Christmas Day we would get “Santa” presents and stockings filled with candy (like those ever yummy Krsip Kringles). We would always get dad cherry cordials or creme drops. Even when we realized Santa isn’t real, we continued it till about I was 14. It turned into our most expensive gifts and stockings. Christmas Day is the quiet day for our family. We don’t really do much. Just relax and go over to my Mom’s side of the family to visit with them. Maybe watch Elf or White Christmas.

9) Peppermint Ice Cream

My second favorite ice cream flavor(first being chocolate chip cookie dough). I would look forward to this every Winter because it was only in stores November-January. What also made this ice cream special was that it wasn’t everywhere. I could only get it when I would spend time at my Memaw and Papaw’s. Papaw would always make sure I had some when I came over to spend the night with them on the weekends. My Papaw or myself would make a big bowl of soft, creamy, brightly colored red, peppermint ice cream in a bowl and then I would sit down and watch My Fair Lady or some other musical. Now that I am dairy free, I miss this. I long for the day to have peppermint ice cream back in my life. I guess this calls for homemade coconut ice cream with crushed peppermints….

10) Christmas in Dixie

Nothing like it. Come one down to Dixie, especially the foothills of the Smokies and Appalachia and see what I mean…

Merry Christmas!

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