It’s almost Christmas, and I don’t know about you, but for me, this past year has been one heckuva decade. It feels like we could all use a bit of a break from the Sturm und Drang. The popularity of this recent column from Joe Cunningham can attest to that — not that it doesn’t come well-stocked with its own set of tears, but they’re tears of a different sort; associated with notions of love, remembrance, family, rather than cynicism, doubt, and fatigue.
Over the weekend, Becca Lower gave a nod to the annual airing of the film adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” noting its Christmas connection, sparked largely by the song “My Favorite Things.”
I decided it might be fun to share with you, dear readers, a few of my favorite (Christmas-related) things. So, without further ado:
Favorite Christmas Cocktail: Christmosas
I first happened upon this delish delight several years ago. I’ve made it for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day gatherings several times since and it’s always a hit! Easy to make and easy to serve a non-alcoholic version (just leave out the Prosecco/Champagne et voila!)
1 cup Cranberries, whole fresh
2 Granny Smith apples
1 cup Grapes, green
1 cup Pomegranate seeds
1 cup Sparkling grape juice
1 (750-ml.) bottle Champagne (or Prosecco)
Break out the stemless wine glasses (or even clear plastic cups). Drop in a couple of cubes of ice, then add a few cranberries, two or three apple cubes, a couple of grapes (I usually slice them in half), and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds. Pour in some sparkling grape juice, then a splash of Champagne or Prosecco (or a splash of sparkling grape juice and as much Champagne/Prosecco as suits your fancy — these are not hard and fast ratios.) Then serve up this sparkly, Christmas-y goodness and enjoy! (Note: All the bits of fruit are tasty, but beware the cranberries — they’re a bit tart.)
Favorite Christmas Dish: Swiss Green Bean Casserole
This is a bit of a twist on the standard “Green Bean Casserole” — and while I often fix it for my family’s Christmas dinner, it’s popular enough that I fix it for other occasions, as well. My recipe comes from my Mom and is slightly different than the one pictured here — plus, I’ve improvised a bit with it over the years.
3 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Flour
1/4 tsp Pepper
1 tsp Salt
1/3 cup Onion, chopped
1 pint Sour Cream
3 cans French-style Green Beans
3 cups Cornflakes, crushed
1/4 lb. Swiss Cheese
1/4 cup Butter
Melt 3 Tbsp butter. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, and sour cream over low-medium heat. Stir until thick and smooth. Add onion and well-drained green beans. Pour into greased 9×13 casserole dish. Combine cheese, Cornflakes, and about 1/4 cup of melted butter. Cover the top of the casserole with mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. (Note: I’ve taken to replacing the Cornflakes with French’s fried onions, and rather than trying to combine the cheese, flakes, and butter before topping the casserole with it, I usually just sprinkle the cheese, then the fried onions, then pour the melted butter over it — a bit easier, but still just as tasty.)
Favorite Christmas Cookie: Pecan Crescent Cookies
It’s tough to choose a favorite here — so many delicious sweet treats at Christmas time. But if I had to opt for just one, I think the Pecan Crescent cookies would win out. Their sweet, buttery goodness with a hint of pecan makes everything seem right with the world.
I don’t have my own twist on this recipe, but you can find it here.
Favorite Christmas Carol: “O Holy Night”
There’s nothing quite like a beautifully sung carol to touch the heart and evoke the true spirit of Christmas. “Silent Night” is a favorite, as is “The First Noel.” And Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from “Meet Me in St. Louis” always strikes a chord.
But “O Holy Night” is the one that nearly brings me to tears every time I hear it. There are plenty of lovely renditions of it, but I’m partial to Josh Groban’s.
Favorite Christmas Song: “Christmas Wrapping”
Not to be confused with Christmas carols, Christmas songs are those we hear on the radio at Christmas time but don’t typically sing in church or while caroling. Newer and more commercial than the traditional carols, they nevertheless evoke the Christmas spirit. This is another tough call for me — there are several that are sentimental favorites. But I think I have to go with “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses. Perhaps because my teen years were in the 80s and the sound and feel of this song are so evocative of that era. Plus, it tells a cute story and it’s got a fun, peppy beat — and horns!
Favorite Christmas Movie: “It’s a Wonderful Life”
This one’s an easy call for me. Though “Love, Actually” has become another beloved traditional Christmas must-see in recent years, “It’s a Wonderful Life” sits atop my “All-Time Favorite Movies” list in general, not just in the Christmas category. (“Princess Bride” and “When Harry Met Sally” round out the top three — yes, I’m a hopeless romantic.)
I know it’s cliche. I don’t care. The first time I saw it was by accident. I was maybe 10 years old. I had a little, old, portable black-and-white TV in my bedroom compliments of my grandfather –a Sony or Panasonic, with maybe an eight or 10-inch screen. I wasn’t supposed to watch it after lights out, but it was Christmas break and I couldn’t sleep, so I turned on the TV and caught the almost-beginning of the movie — where the angels are discussing George Bailey’s travails and the need to “send someone down.”
I had no idea what I was watching but it immediately drew me in. I sat down on the floor of my bedroom, criss-cross applesauce, and watched the most wondrous story unfold before me: an earnest boy, who always did the right thing and loved his family fiercely, growing into a bright, ambitious young man, a reluctant romantic, a stalwart family man, turned into a distraught, lost man, desperately in need of a miracle. A multitude of prayers answered in an unexpected way. A man who’d grown full of self-doubt given the opportunity to see his true worth in the eyes of the loved ones whose lives were immeasurably dimmer without him in them. A heartwarming lesson in the importance of family and friendship and love, wrapped in the magic of Christmas (and an utterly unselfconscious embrace of faith and the power of prayer).
As an aside, this movie cemented Jimmy Stewart as one of my all-time favorite actors. (Don’t even get me started on his reading of “A Dog Named Beau.”) It left an indelible mark on an impressionable me. I’ve watched it countless times since. Enough that I can recite most of the lines right along with the beloved characters. My patient beau can attest to this — he’s a saint for being willing to watch it with me every year. Of course, he’s the same way with “Scrooge” (the 1971 Albert Finney version), which, I must admit, has grown on me over the years.
So, there you have a few of my favorite (Christmas) things. Let’s hear yours.
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