Family-Centered Holiday Traditions with the Harrisons

Kathy Harrison has great suggestions for a meaningful, thoughtful, family-centered Christmas celebration.

As a mom with a big family (seven kids and six grandkids) I found it necessary to seek out ways to save my sanity, my budget and my serenity during the holiday season. It was not an easy task but I found some strategies that really helped and I want to share them with you.

Develop Family Traditions
Traditions give families anchors. Children especially like to know what to expect and even adults prefer to have some idea of what to anticipate. Time in nature, special music and holiday books are all examples of family traditions that mean so much. My children look forward to building our Christmas village from gingerbread. None of our houses will ever win a decorating award, but the laughter and silliness is something we all love.

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On Christmas Eve we have a big ham dinner at 4:00. We serve mostly food we have raised or traded for locally. By the time the meal is complete and the mess cleaned up it’s time to go to church for a candlelight service. We walk home and sit by the fire for a bit. Soon enough, eyes are drooping and it’s time for the older kids to take their families home and the younger children to get to bed. Bruce and I do our Santa duties and share a glass of eggnog before we go to bed. I could have no gifts at all and my holiday would still be lovely with just church and family.

If You Shop, Shop Smartly and Thoughtfully
Avoid the mall. I do most of my shopping from catalogs. I don’t care for the rush or the ill tempers nor do I wish to be bombarded with the commercialism of a big shopping center. Shopping from catalogs allows me to take my time and stay within my budget. So many store purchases are impulse buys.

Sheep are, indeed, difficult to wrap.

Avoid television. This too is consumerism gone crazy. Because my children seldom watch commercial television the never ask for any of the hot toys. They don’t even know most of them exist. Unfortunately, this does lead them to request things like ponies and sheep which are not all that easy to wrap.

Concentrate on what you give rather what you buy. My children often get gently used toys for the holidays. Given her choice of druthers, Phoebe would much prefer a big selection of barely used clothes for her favorite doll to one extravagant outfit. I remember getting a bin full of Legos at a tag sale for my boys. I ran them through the dishwasher and put them in a fancy bin. The boys were thrilled with what was an abundance of Legos. If I had purchased them new, the same dollars would have purchased a very small box. This also gives children permission to be creative when funds are short. My kids have given gifts of wood stacking and child care to siblings and relatives.

Give to others. One of Karen’s best memories is spending Christmas Eve at a homeless shelter with her dad. She wrapped and distributed gifts and served food. She came home to our cozy home with a new appreciation for all she had been blessed with.

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When a new item is necessary, think in categories. Everyone should get something indulgent and special from time-to-time but in general we give and get things that are useful. Tools, books, equipment, outerwear and kits that teach skills like soap or candle making are often under the tree.

Start Christmas Day Together
Here is our family breakfast tradition. In each child’s stocking I put an orange and a cheese stick. This tides them over until any outside chores are done and we can all eat together Christmas morning. I make up a big batch of popovers and serve them with home-made jelly and just-churned butter. Popovers are easy but oh-so-fancy looking and fun.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put in your popover pan. I have both a metal pan designed for popovers and a cast iron muffin tin. The popover pan makes a prettier breakfast but I prefer the crispy texture I get from the cast iron.

For six popovers mix a cup of flour, a cup of milk, an egg and a pinch of salt in a glass bowl. Some people say to leave the batter lumpy while others prefer a smooth batter. I hand-beat my batter with a wire whip and I do remove most of the lumps.

Once the popover pan is hot, pull it out of the oven and quickly add the batter. I fill a bit more than half full. Slip the pan back into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and continue baking for another 15 minutes.

You want the popovers to be well-risen and just browning on the top. I never cook for as long as most recipes suggest. When you remove the popovers, cut a slit in the top to let the steam escape. Just a word of warning. You can do everything right and still have popovers that don’t pop. If this happens, put them in a pretty bowl or basket and call them Christmas Egg Muffins. They will still taste just fine. Popovers are not very good reheated so eat up and don’t be stingy with the butter or the raspberry jelly!

Kathy Harrison

About Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison is the author of Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson for both foster parenting and family preparedness and has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and National Public Radio. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.