Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Traditions

Everyone has a Christmas tradition or two that they follow faithfully, be it leaving a carrot out for Santa's reindeer, a special ornament for the tree that has to go in just the right place, or a favorite carol that simply must be sung on Christmas Eve (that's "O Holy Night for me in any case).

My family and I are very big on Christmas traditions, some sentimental and some from the lunatic fringe. My father has to watch the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" on Christmas Eve after we return from church. He also managed to convince us that "Santa" would much rather have a ho-ho and a diet Pepsi instead of milk and cookies. And we could always tell which presents "Santa" wrapped, since those were the ones covered in at least 70 pieces of tape, versus the ones from my mother, which were always pristinely wrapped.

We are also very proud of our "ugly" tree. Every ornament and knick-knack from all four children are prominently displayed, including, but not limited to, a green pipe-cleaner ball covered in glue. Some have a much nobler sentiment, like my grandfather's favorite tin soldiers who now hang alongside old baby rattles that my mom just could not bear to part with.
But over the years, new traditions have developed as well, not all of them limited to the family circle.

Three years ago, my roommates and I thought it might be fun to have some girls over for cookie decorating. We broke out a little white wine and icing and enjoyed a couple hours of gossip and sugar highs. Now, people expect this party and have planned accordingly. My roommate literally takes off the night before to bake dozens of sugar cookies from scratch, and then the night of, we make our own icing and go nuts with the decorations, be it sprinkles or red hots, M&M's or food coloring.

To be honest, my cookies suck, at least from an aesthetic standpoint. I just don't have the touch or patience to make beautiful, intricate, clever designs on five different snowmen like my friend Kate. But I enjoy it nonetheless and hell, the cookies taste delicious in the end, so that keeps me happy enough. Plus, it is the one chance we all get to bond as friends over the holidays, no high heels required.

I have found that Christmas dinner is a mixed bag from a lot of people. For Vronsky, it is Thanksgiving redeux, with tons of people and at least two hams. Some people are too wiped out to prepare anything elaborate and they just have leftovers. My family and I fall between the two: we make our own pizzas.

It is certainly not very high-brow, but it is a way for all of us to get in the kitchen together and enjoy both cooking and eating together. And this way, no one person (usually my mom) gets saddled with all the work while everyone else plays with their new toys.

Home-made pizzas are the best. We sautée our own ground beef, select the best chorizo to use in lieu of pepperoni, and have an abundance of onions, mushrooms, olives, sweet peppers, and home-made marinara sauce. I like to load up on the veggies and do just a light layer of ground beef. I love the chorizo, but I prefer that plain with a bit of manchego cheese and Rioja while watching Snoopy and the Peanuts' Christmas special.

My dad and brother on the other hand, load theirs up so thickly with chorizo that their pies take twice as long to cook and are usually burned on the edges, but they say that is how they like them. My mom goes light on the cheese, and my sisters are mushroom fanatics.

Whatever toppings do not make it on the pizzas are parcled out to the pugs, who deserve a little holiday treat as well. The aroma of the baking pizzas are torture for them and we want to make sure they feel included in the holiday cheer, especially since we made them wear those reindeer ears for the Christmas photos.

However, this is what I actually hope to find under the tree. Cute enough to eat!

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