Every year, there are always things that make the holidays feel like the holidays. Putting up the tree, listening to certain Christmas albums, and making certain foods…it all adds up to the Christmas feeling I remember from when I was a kid.
My family still keeps up a lot of our old favorite Christmas traditions. One of the biggest is decorating the tree, something we’ve done together for as long as I can remember. We put it up early this year, on Thanksgiving Day, which we can get away with since we’ve had an artificial tree for a while now. When I was very young, I remember us tromping through the snowy woods across from my house to cut down a real one, which my Dad would then meticulously water every day to keep it from drying out. We would put on records to listen to while we decorated it, classic stuff like Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song. Each year the ornament collection grew a little bit more as school projects generated new handmade touches that my parents have kept and that we still hang on the tree. There are also a bunch of wall decorations that we put up every year, and there’s something remarkably Christmas-y about the house once we have everything in its proper place.
My brother and I spent massive amounts of time outdoors, sledding and building snowmen. Afterwards, like a lot of kids, we usually warmed up with a mug of hot chocolate and some cookies. And boy where there cookies: peanut blossoms, Russian tea cakes, buttery press cookies, and sugar cookies with so many chocolate bits and sprinkles that they’d practically make your teeth dance in your head when you bit into them. My mom always made a special batch or two of fudge as well, some for us to eat some some to give away. We still make a few of these things, some vegan (like the peanut blossoms) and some not (like Mom’s fudge, which I have yet to successfully veganize). To this day when I bake a batch of peanut blossoms, I can remember scooping peanut butter into a mixing bowl when I was a kid and “taste testing” the dough as Mom and I rolled each cookie in sugar. Unwrapping Hershey’s Kisses is a pleasure reserved for memory until they come out with a vegan one, but these days Baker’s semisweet chocolate does the trick and tastes just as good.
It was the sugar cookies that were truly epic, though. There’s something about being a kid and getting to make a huge mess rolling out dough, cutting shapes, and decorating cookies with all your favorite holiday-themed sprinkles. We had a huge collection, from green and red sugar crystals to tiny sugary stars that I would press onto the tips of cut out trees and the wings of cookie angels. This year, I’m going to go with piped icing as decoration, but just because I’ve grown up doesn’t mean a few (vegan) sprinkles won’t find their way onto a cookie or two.
I won’t mention what we used to eat for Christmas Eve dinner, as it was decidedly not vegan and looking back on it now makes me rather ill. As a kid, though, I looked forward to what I saw as a very special meal that, thankfully for my young arteries, we only had once a year. Christmas Day itself brought some kind of fully-loaded Italian pasta dish, usually lasagna. Every once and a while, the whole family would get enterprising and make homemade ravioli at some point during the holidays, to be eaten on either Christmas or New Year’s. My brother and I would roll out the dough with one of those metal pasta rollers that clamps to the edge of the table, then Mom and Dad would lay it out in the ravioli molds, fill each one, and put the finished ravioli in the freezer until it was time to cook them.
This year, I’ll be making a pot of homemade sauce for my mom to use in her lasagna, but I’m not sure what I’ll make for myself. Christmas Eve dinner is 100% mine to cook, though, and I’ve already got my eye on a roasted vegetable strudel from 1,000 Vegan Recipes. I’m hoping it will be a new Christmas tradition in the QV household, one I can look back on in ten or twenty years and remember with as much fondness as I remember the traditions we’ve already established.
One of our most enjoyable Christmas traditions is watching all of our favorite Christmas-themed movies and cartoons. I’d be here forever if I listed everything we make an attempt to watch every year, but I have three that continue to be my favorites: A Charlie Brown Christmas, Muppet Family Christmas, and The Gift of Love: A Christmas Story. The latter was a made-for-TV “Golden Showcase” movie that it seems like no one else has heard of, which is a shame. It’s a wonderfully done story and a beautiful movie, both in message and in setting. Someday I hope to be able to find it on DVD, but for now I’ll have to hope that our ancient VHS recording holds out.
I’d love to hear about some of your Christmas traditions and which ones you’re updating to fit into your vegan lifestyle. This really is a special time of year, and I hope you’re getting yourself in the spirit with some fun foods and festive activities.