Christmas, for us, comes at the darkest and coldest time of year, and we try to bring light and warmth through a variety of activities. A lot of our traditions are family traditions from several families and generations. While we live in the US, we trace our heritage to Europe and Scandinavia, melding a lot of old cultures with new creativity.
For us, Christmas starts on with Christmas Eve on December 24 (after dark) and extends to January 6 (Epiphany). We do decorate (for light and warmth) - I usually get a fresh cut evergreen and bring it in a couple of weeks before Christmas Eve. It stays up until January 6.
We definitely gather as many as we can - travel conditions and health being the main separators. Attending Christmas Eve church service is also part of my tradition. This year, weather kept us at home.
Food - just lots of it. The items that get the most attention are the cookies (Kekse, koekjes, småkakor, biscuits). There are some recipes that are difficult to reproduce the way we remember them. Even though they're German (springerle), they're not that common among all people of German ancestry. My great-aunt's recipe is very descriptive, just not a lot of details. "Start early in the morning ... Before noon ... After dinner ...". 1 of the ingredients is a bit difficult to find in the US (baking ammonia), so I don't attempt them often.
The children get gifts, the adults exchange gifts - either by drawing a name beforehand, or with a random drawing the day we gather. We also send cards and letters to friends and family.
Music is also an integral part of Christmas - music, hymns, carols, anthems, oratorios, and cantatas specifically for this season. I've got more playlists, music CDs, and albums for Christmas than any other genre.
Part of my heritage is Dutch - the surnames are de Bruyn and Kops, as well as the combined de Bruyn Kops. Plus, there's some Bohemian/Czech (Smetana) in my blood. I would love to hear your traditions for this time of year!
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