tradition

THE CHRISTMAS TREE CHOP, SANTA LUCIA, AND LITTLE DREAMS

 
Christmas Tree Chop Tiny Tree by Samantha Spigos

The tiniest tree we’ve had yet. Technically only part of a tree; a glorified branch, really. We found it among the lowly pile of “tree tops” relegated to the fence at the Christmas tree farm. So dainty, this tree, that Mark and I were able to forgo the tree wrapping and tie it to the top of my station wagon with ease. This was our fifth year to caravan out yonder for the Christmas Tree Chop, and the first year that no one actually chopped a tree. It was more of a wintry walkabout with hot cocoa and sledding. Turns out none of us could afford to chop a tree, and all the better. As grandma would’ve said, we are clear tickled with our tree.

If my absence here has been any indication, I’ve been finding it hard to share much publicly this year. Mark and I are still so fresh to parenthood. We opt not to share much about our daughter on the Internet, even if we would love for you to enjoy her gap teeth and scrunch face. As for everything else we pen about, we are in a very slow season. I don’t mean winter, though it has been plenty restful. I mean life. There is just . . . not much happening. I suspect it is not for naught. There are things that need tending in our relationship and hearts, and they must be mundane, silent things. (Ugh.) I trust God knows this better than we. Better put, I am trying to trust. We had grown accustomed to major change around every bend, our joint life seeming to always gain momentum. Then Autumn hit, and life slowed. Stalled, almost. We thought we were buying a farm, and when that did not come to pass, we resumed life as usual. The Big Dreams went to hunker down for a nice, long hibernation. Daily life was replaced with Little Dreams like baking cake again, like playing basketball again, like going to the Christmas tree farm again.

Christmas Tree Chop Sledding Family by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Family by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Rosemary Child by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Kids Sledding by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Festive Kids Sledding by Samantha Spigos

And then there is Nicholas. Guadalupe. Lucia. The feast days of December that punctuate the end of the year and bring greater meaning to Advent. We celebrate these saints and Our Lady as a family, joining the multitudes around the world who do the same. During an otherwise anticipatory season, these small celebrations are grounding, acting as a sweet reminder to take proper notice of the day at hand. Who came before us? What did it mean for the world? In a special way, I love Saint Lucia. She was an Italian girl who brought light and hope to Sweden, and now brings light and hope to me. We baked the traditional recipe associated with her feast day — lussekatter, or saffron buns — in all manner of traditional shapes: the lyre, the Christmas pig and horse, the golden wagon, the little baby, the hair of the priest (every kid’s favorite around here). Meanwhile, my mom sat on the floor and read aloud a story about her. There is something quite beautiful in watching a child at work in the kitchen. . . that is, if you can look past the constant sneaking of bites and patting down of perfectly risen dough. And really we ought to, because children teach us so much about how to appreciate Little Dreams, especially when you give them their own handful of dough.

Santa Lucia Day Baking Lussekater Lucy Buns by Samantha Spigos
Saint Lucia Day Lussekater Lucy Buns by Samantha Spigos
Santa Lucia Day Peg Dolls Saint Lucy Bernadette by Samantha Spigos
saint lucia day lussekater lucy buns by samantha spigos
saint lucia day lussekater family generations by samantha spigos
Saint Lucia lussekater lucy cats baking by Samantha Spigos

For the inquisitive . . .

+ Lucia and Bernadette saint peg dolls.
+ We use the lussekatter recipe from this favorite book.
+ The pink pointy ear flap hat pictured above is a spectacular free knitting pattern.
+ Christmas Tree Chops of yore: 2017, 2016, 2015.
+ Last year’s Santa Lucia Day.


—S

COOKIE DAY + THE CHRISTMAS TREE CHOP

 
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There are a few days every year that I look forward to most, Cookie Day and the Christmas Tree Chop among them. Saint Lucia Day is joining the ranks—I can feel it. This blog is becoming a little chronicle of the aforementioned traditions, and like a creature of habit I look forward to documenting and writing about this year's. Annual days like these mark the passage of time yet maintain the patina of well-worn tradition, and I for one need that dichotomy. In a whirling, swirling season (and year!) surely it's essential that we keep a few things constant, slow, and sacred.

Cookie Day has happened every year for 21 years! Certain years there are special guests who throw aprons on and lean into the spirit of frosting and sprinkles (you will walk away with a blue tongue and a stomachache; it's just a fact, people.). Other years there are just 3 or 4 of us. Ever constant are Fran and Cindy, lifelong best friends and Cookie Day Foundresses. We are trending upwards in numbers as a whole gaggle of children join the Cookie Force. All the little ones present this year are Montessori-educated, which showed in their deliberate care in rolling dough and cutting shapes. (It should be noted that they also deliberately snuck so many bites of cookie dough that I was sure they themselves would morph into cut-out cookies. Self-control is tough when there are 200 cookies on the table.) I would be remiss to not mention my grandma's absence. We missed her palpably. Her dear sister, my Great Aunt Posie, joined us and filled the air with the gentle joy the Engle sisters were decidedly known for.
// [Peek 2015 + whoops, I guess I never posted the photos from 2016]

And the Christmas Tree Chop! It's only our fourth year—practically infancy—and I suspect the cost of trees increased at our local tree farm, but it is no less a favorite tradition. Hot chocolate and coffee must accompany, and ten to twenty trees need be deliberated over before settling on The One. Brother Zach always cuts it down, and generally one child cries. It's a little bit chaos, a lotta bit festive. 
// [Peek 2015 + 2016]

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—S

IN DEFENSE OF VALENTINE'S DAY | A HOME TOUR

 

Oh February, you fickle month, you. Being a resident lover of winter (best season forever and ever amen), even I have never met a person who really loves February. Funny, then, that the holiday representative of love falls smack in the middle of this gelid, forgettable month. As if the collective groan of Midwest society wasn't enough, Lent — a liturgical season of fasting — often lays claims to February. Enter me. For more than a decade I have hailed Valentine's Day as my second favorite holiday of the year, and I always mean it. My reasoning has nothing to do with random acts of kindness or saying 'I love you' an extra time; I'd wager I am already at maximum capacity with telling my husband I love him. Roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are certainly of no interest to me (though I'm not in the business of turning those things down).

Valentine's Day is the day when I get to offer my affinity for winter and all things pale pink to those around me. Stews become romantic and cracking a bottle of mead is reasonable. The craft chest gets opened and I design Mark's annual valentine. In college we would hole up together and cook a time-intensive meal like traditional paella. Now we opt for cooking for others because we can. We spent all of February 14th preparing a four course meal for my parents and oldest sister. It was simple, Mediterranean, and in our wheelhouse.

I sliced each Blue Adirondack potato with wonder. Vibrant purple vegetables in winter: what a treasure. Our table settings included my mother-in-law's first dish set, now our first, gold cloth napkins handed down from my sister, and new flatware—the dearest wedding gift from our grandma (who spent months watching the 'specials' so as to pick up each piece when it went on sale). We had the aural delight of listening to the entirety of The Beatles discography on vinyl. A Valentine's Day not unlike other days of the year, but noteworthy in its own right. So while I'm not here to convert anyone to loving a holiday famous for being unloved, I would like to make the assertion that Valentine's Day can be non-commercial and worthy of celebration if we make it so.


—S

MANY HANDS WORKING DOUGH | COOKIE DAY

 
cutting out cookies
candy cane cookies
cutting out cookies
mark carrying cookies
kids working dough

Cookie Day has happened every year since 1996. For 19 years, one day in December has been devoted to baking and decorating sugar cookies en masse. You know, the "16 sticks of butter before icing" kind of baking. This is an all hands on deck approach to holiday baking that my mom and her lifelong best friend, Cindy, established (pictured together below). However small or inexperienced, however icing-liberal or artistically un-inclined, any & all are invited to join together in intention and craft.

Let me be clear about one thing: there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to decorating these cookies. For nearly two decades, we've been transforming Santa into octopi, ghosts, and the yellow submarine. Gingerbread men become Swedish yodelers, Winnie the Pooh, ninja turtles and the Mona Lisa. The joy of this day has nothing to do with creating picturesque desserts and everything to do with celebrating togetherness, celebrating hundreds of cookies warm out of the oven, and celebrating the genuine spirit of Christmas. Four Cookie Day's ago, I showed Mark how to properly hold a piping bag. Now he shows the little ones, who in a few years will show their friends. 

In this Advent season of anticipation, we aim for happiness, gratitude, and wonder. 
Thanks be to Tradition, a slow & beautiful maiden.

jane and hazel frosting cookies
mama aimee
a table full of dough
frances tasting frosting
fran and cindy
frosted cookies

—S