Christmas Delight

A blog about the joy I find in all things Christmas


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Christmas Activites & Such

This is me exactly! (photo: Pinterest)

Top Ten Things to Do During the Christmas Season
(in no particular order)

1. Go see a movie ON Christmas, there’s no one at the theaters & it’s a fun thing to do with your entire family.

2. If you live in Dallas, go see the Galleria Christmas tree–95 foot tall, 10,000 ornaments, and 250,000 lights. That’s MY kind of Christmas tree, did I mention that I love that everything, including Christmas trees, really is bigger in Texas?! Or if you live in the Austin area, venture out to Marble Falls and see the Christmas Walkway of Lights.

3. Take a nap!!!

My sister Claire (under the blanket), me, and then my cousin Rebekah asleep after waking up too early for stockings on Christmas 2010. (photo: Randy Gerdes)

4. Decide to exchange hand-made gifts with a best friend or family member. Come on ladies, you know you’ve been wanting to try out like 57 things from Pinterest (I linked to mine in case you’re lacking inspiration)–this is the perfect opportunity to do so!

5. Bake/cook together as a family! Whether this is Christmas cookies or a gingerbread house or trying a new recipe–spend time in the kitchen together!

6. Take family pictures! It’s such a tradition for my Papaw to set up his tripod and get us all arranged (which of course took HOURS…or at least seemed that way because it was always right before presents!) and then he would run and join us! Here’s a couple from the past few years:

Last year’s grandparents& grandkids shot! Somehow we’re missing some of the grandkids… (photo: Randy Gerdes)

Once again, we’re missing some of the grandkids! Attempting to get us all to smile at once Christmas 2006. (photo: Randy Gerdes)

Corralling the whole clan for the family picture back in 2007–don’t we all look just thrilled?! (photo: Randy Gerdes)

7. Go get a Starbucks seasonal drink!

8. Listen to Christmas music!!! My all-time favorite albums are by Point of Grace and Michael W. Smith.

9. Donate some of your time and pocket book to charity. My personal favorite is Operation Christmas Child where you select an age range and gender for a child and then fill a shoe box with all kinds of Christmas gifts, then the box is sent around the world. For many recipients of the shoe boxes, that will be their only Christmas gift. It’s an especially good fit for families  with young children who want to get involved with a charity during the holidays but have constraints on the activities they can participate in that are child-friendly. Operation Christmas Child is an easy thing to explain to little kids and is also easy for them to be part of (they get to pick out toys!).

Children receiving their shoe boxes filled with Christmas gifts. (photo: Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child)

10. Reflect on the year, preferably in front of your lit Christmas tree. (The most peaceful, quiet place in the world, in my opinion. I feel a little bit of magic and know that everything will be okay when I sit in front of mine.) One of the things my mom always does that I love, so I’ve started doing as well, is taking time to journal about the year, the good things, the bad things, what I’ve learned. Now no, I don’t normally journal–I just don’t have the time most days. But to take time to slow down in the midst of the holiday bustle and just breathe, reflect, and feel grateful for the year? That’s an incredible thing.
My mom also likes to pick a one word “theme” for the new year around Christmas, something she wants to try to focus on in the next year. My word this year was “Brave” and I think it’s worked out pretty well. We’ll see what 2013 will hold!

11. Okay so I couldn’t narrow it down to ten! Count down with a nativity calendar:

You put up one character each day of December, and baby Jesus is the last character put up on Christmas Eve. One of my Christmas gifts my senior year–because I wanted my own as my mom has had one I’ve been in charge of all my life! (photo: Alissa Hale)

Tradition Spotlight-MY FAMILY 🙂

The patriarch & matriarch of my family, Grammie & Papaw, opening their stocking, affectionately known as “Clubfoot” (sitting in Grammie’s lap) because it tends to expand every year. They always have overflow–which is the pair of PJs in Papaw’s lap tied into an overflow bag! (photo: Randy Gerdes)

It’s hard for me to even know where to start describing all the traditions I have in my family. As I’ve sat here writing I keep thinking “oh and I can’t forget this one, or that one, or or or!” Traditions are so important my mom wrote her dissertation years ago on the impact family traditions have on the level of cohesiveness of a family. I wouldn’t advise actually reading it, but essentially-they matter. And that’s why I love my family!

First of all, we open stockings, from youngest to oldest the moment everyone stumbles out of bed. Somehow, stockings always manage to be filled with inside jokes & goodies from throughout the year-lots of “OH MY GOSH I REMEMBER THIS AND I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU GOT IT FOR ME!” moments.

As y’all could tell by my recipes post, cooking is a HUGE deal in my family. It’s a matter of pride for the women in my family that we spend all day on Christmas Eve cooking & all day Christmas (when we’re not opening stockings/gifts or at a movie) cooking. We normally do ham or beef tenderloin for a meat and the sides always rotate year to year. We also always make a plate of dessert treats for my neighbors and then go door-to-door caroling as we deliver treats! (This is what happens when you grow up Church of Christ, you use any excuse to sing!)

One of my absolute favorite traditions (it’s so hard to choose!!) is getting an ornament both from my parents and my grandparents this year. They always did this with the goal in mind that once I moved out of the house, I’d have enough ornaments for my own Christmas tree. Sure enough, no one is surprised that as this is my first year in an apartment, I went out and bought a 7.5 foot Christmas tree!

Alissa’s first own Christmas tree, put up November 1, 2012. You can see the cradle toward the top of the tree that says “Baby’s First Christmas” that was the first ornament I ever received from my parents along with all the ornaments! (photo: Alissa Hale)

Two things incredibly unique to my family that we do:

1. The mysteriously wrapped gift, addressed to someone but not from anyone. Beware! It’s probably the sixty year old cookies! (Yes, you read that right!) So very long story short, when my Papaw’s dad was taking him to college, they stopped and bought a box of cookies–but they were incredibly stale so they threw them away. Which, of course, was the last Papaw thought about it until that Christmas when he received a mysterious present from under tree. Finally as he unwrapped it, he realized what it was! Papaw’s dad had gone back and gotten the cookie box out of the trash and kept it until that Christmas.

Now, sixty years later, the cookies are “gifted” to someone each year! And especially if you’ve just married into our family, beware, we tend to welcome new-comers by initiating them into the cookie tradition!

2.  As Christmas is the only time my entire family is gathered, it is often the time the oil lamp is brought out. The “lighting of the lamp” only happens for a very special announcement-a move (when my mom was a kid, my grandparents lit the lamp to tell their kids they were moving from Wisconsin to Texas) or an addition to the family, such as when my mom remarried and we welcomed my step-dad and step-siblings into the family or when my cousin Kim had us light the lamp to tell us she was pregnant with her first child–the first great grandchild!

The lighting of the lamp has brought sorrow and joy, but always brings us closer together as a family.

To me that’s what Christmas will always be, a chance to grow closer as a family.

PS-Only 48 more days until Christmas!!

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Favorite Christmas Weddings & Such

For this post, I thought I would combine my job (as an event planner) with my love of Christmas–enjoy!

One of my favorite wedding blogs, Green Wedding Shoes always has wonderful blogs during holiday season. I fell in love with a couple of the posts while reading up on Christmas weddings. For instance, ladies, can you imagine not knowing, as you woke up one morning, that it was your WEDDING DAY?! One groom proposed to his bride during Christmas break while they were with her family–and they got married four days later with the help of her family, she was completely surprised!

Surprise Christmas Eve wedding–read the full story on Green Wedding Shoes here! (photo: Jamie Delaine Photography)

Or better yet, why not elope during the holidays? That’s what this couple did, but still hired a photographer to capture their special day. I personally can’t imagine not having pictures of my wedding, I’m very sentimental–so I feel like this is the best of both worlds as far as eloping goes. Still have it be just the two of you, but have pictures for yourselves, and of course all your friends and family who want to see!

See the entire blog here! (photo: Casie Zalud Photography)

Love this collage & the Christmas pillows to emphasize the theme! (photo: Casie Zalud Photography)

The stockings make me happy! (photo: Casie Zalud Photography)

The Merry Christmas banner is perfect for behind the cake table! (photo: Casie Zalud Photography)

Absolutely can’t get married on Christmas, scheduling conflicts–your work schedule, his mom can’t be there, et cetera? But you love Christmas as much as I do (I’d like to see you try!) and just have to incorporate Christmas into your wedding somehow?  r
No problem! Do what this couple did! (Believe me, I’m taking notes!)
Have your engagement shoot at a Christmas tree farm! I think this may be may favorite idea yet! (This might also have something to do with the fact that my Christmas is going up tomorrow! Yes, you did read that right! Pictures to come next week!)

Love this signage! (photo: Jonda Spurbeck Photographers)

LOVE this photo with them holding the sign! (photo: Jonda Spurbeck Photographers)

Wooden sign + hot chocolate = precious (photo: Jonda Spurbeck Photographers)

Love the collage with Christmas cookies & peppermint sticks-so simple to do with such great results! (photo: Jonda Spurbeck Photographers)
See the entire blog post here.

For more Christmas weddings, be sure to watch the Green Wedding Shoes during December-January.

Tradition Spotlight: The Futrell Family through the eyes of Kyleigh Ann Futrell

(Left to right) Kyleigh Ann Futrell, Kyle Futrell, Marti Futrell at their home during Christmas 2009 (Photo: Bryce Gage)

“The day after Halloween marks the beginning of Christmas season in the Futrell household! Fall decorations are gathered and packed up into boxes, while one of the biggest cleaning sprees of the year commences! The first weekend in November is the ultimate kick off to decorating though. Boxes containing branches and other parts of the Christmas tree are extracted from the attic along with boxes upon boxes of lights. My dad turns on the TV to College Gameday on ESPN, and begins to set up the tree. Assembling each layer, adding over 40 strands of lights, he completes the tree in about a football game and a half, with my mom and me untangling lights and separating branches. Once all of the lights are on the tree, my mom begins taking ornaments out of boxes, while my dad and I strategically hang them. Finally, after another football game or so, all of the ornaments are on the tree and the rest of the house can be decorated.

We don’t notice the time while we put  up the main tree. However, we do measure progress by football games! It is tradition that we watch college football while assembling the tree.

It is as if the tree is the starting point for our Christmas decorating. Once the tree is up, we can bring out the little trees, the mantle decorations, the Department 56 houses and the transformation to a Christmas wonderland can begin!

Many people view the Christmas season and decorating as a burden, obligatory family gatherings. However, it is my absolute favorite time of the year! It is all of the family time I get to spend with my loved ones that makes the season special. I will never forget the late nights before Thanksgiving as we scramble to finish all of the decorations before the family arrives for lunch! Even after the decorating is finished, the excitement that initiates the season never ends!”

2011 Walkway of Lights in Marble Falls, Texas (photo: Kyleigh Ann Futrell)

PS-55 more days until Christmas!


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Favorite Recipes & Such

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the time I’ve spent being underfoot in the kitchen, watching as all the women in my family conduct magic. I’m learning to make some of our favorite holiday recipes (My personal favorite you ask? Pumpkin chocolate chip bread–if I get a request, I might release that recipe, though it’s not in this post!)

The women in my family making Christmas dinner in 2007. (photo: Alissa Hale)

These first three are from Cathy Burson, whose Tradition Spotlight was featured last week:

Pumpkin Pie
(Very light, fluffy pie–secret is the hot water)

1 can pumpkin
1 15 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1 c. hot water

Mix all together, pour into an unbaked pie crust and bake at 375 for 50 to 55 minutes.

Sweet Potato Casserole
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
6 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 teas. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
3 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes

Topping
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans

Beat eggs; add sugar, butter, vanilla, milk, and sweet potatoes.  Pour into 1-quart buttered casserole.

Topping:  Mix brown sugar, butter and flour until it looks like cornmeal.  Spread on top of sweet potato mixture.  Cover with pecans and pat down with hand.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Chicken and Cornbread Dressing

Stew whole hen. Debone and cut up chicken.  Strain broth.  Crumble 1 cake of cornbread and about 3 biscuits or slices of bread.  Add one cup of celery that is chopped fine and one large onion, also chopped fine.  Add about 4 cups of broth (adjust to make mixture soupy).  Beat 4 eggs and add to mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add 2 teaspoons of poultry seasoning.  Layer chicken on bottom of pan and pour dressing on top.  Cook at 350 for about 1 hour or until set.

Pizzelle Recipe
My best friend has grown up making these, they’re so yummy-they’re shaped like snowflakes!

The Pizzelle Chef is a pizelle grill used to make pizzelle cookies. This is the box from an old machine/recipe booklet from the 70s– I unfortunately couldn’t find a website for the company today. (photo: Vitantonio Manufacturing Company)

The Pizzelle Chef is a pizelle grill used to make pizzelle cookies. This is the box from an old machine/recipe booklet from the 70s– I unfortunately couldn’t find a website for the company today. (photo: Vitantonio Manufacturing Company)

6 eggs
3 1/2 cups of flour
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 cup of margarine
4 tsp baking powder
2 tbs vanilla or anise (Tip: You can also use almond extract)

Beat eggs adding sugar gradually. Beat until smooth. Add cooled melted margarine and vanilla or anise. Sift flour with baking powder and add to egg mixture. Dough will be sticky enough to be dropped by spoon onto hot pizelle grill.
After one minute remove cookie with fork. Dust with powdered sugar. Cool on wire rack.
Makes approximately 60 cookies.

Christmas Chocolate Roll

My absolute favorite Christmas treat, from my maternal grandmother, is chocolate roll.

Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the one Grammie has made in the past, but this is similar to what her chocolate roll looks like. (Picture: http://gluten-free-blog.blogspot.com/2010/02/gluten-free-desserts-review-shabtai.html)

As Grammie said, “It came from my mother-through a woman whose children I used to babysit. I just hung on her every word, she could knit, she could do everything. I watched her make this, and she brought it to me with a new sweater on my birthday.”

Requires a 15 X 10 jelly roll pan.  Grease with Crisco, line with wax paper, then grease the wax paper.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream Filling: (Make early in the day and chill several hours or make the night before and refrigerate so that filling is cold and stiff)

½ cup sugar
4 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoons of salt
1 1/2cups of milk
1 beaten egg
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

1.  Cook in a double-broiler or a heavy-duty pan.  Over low heat, stir first 4 ingredients together.
2.  Cook over low heat for ten minutes to thicken, stirring milk mixture constantly to prevent scorching.
3.  Pour a small amount of the hot milk mixture very gradually into the beaten egg and stir together.
4.  Then pour this egg/milk mixture back into the pan with the rest of the hot milk mixture and cook until thick, 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.
5.  Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla; stir well.
6.  Cover with foil or with a plate to prevent a film from forming on top as it cools.  After mixture is cool, place in fridge to chill several hours or overnight.

Chocolate Roll (cake part):
½ cup of flour
½ teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
4 eggs
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2 squares of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate (2 oz.)
2 tablespoons of sugar
¼ teaspoon of baking soda
3 tablespoons of cold water

1.  Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together; set aside.
2.   In a large bowl, crack the 4 eggs, then beat in ¾ cup sugar.  Add in flour mixture and stir well.  Add vanilla and blend well.
3.  Melt unsweetened chocolate squares in pan on low heat (do not microwave–it will burn). Remove from heat and add the 2 tbsp. sugar.  In small bowl, mix ¼ tsp. baking soda into 3 tbsp. cold water.  When melted chocolate mixture is cool, stir in water/soda mixture until it is thick and light-colored.
4.  Immediately fold chocolate mixture into egg/sugar/flour batter.
5.  Pour into greased/lined jelly roll pan and bake at 375 for 12 minutes.  Cool.
6.  Spread a clean, lint-free, cotton cloth on counter. Cloth should be 2-3 inches longer than your jelly roll pan.  Sprinkle cloth with flour or powdered sugar to keep cake from sticking.
7.  Turn cooled cake onto cloth; peel off wax paper.  Allow cake to continue to cool and “set.” While waiting, prepare a long serving tray for serving chocolate yule log–dimensions:  18 inches long; 11 inches wide.  Line tray with foil or parchment paper and sprinkle with flour or powdered sugar.
8.  Take chilled filling from fridge and stir.  Carefully spread filling onto cake, beginning in the middle and working out to the sides of cake until 1 inch from edges.
9.  To roll cake:  Have prepared long tray ready.  Using the towel edges to support the cake, begin to carefully roll the cake, jelly-roll fashion, starting with one of the long sides.  Roll log with seam side down; carefully lift roll, supported by the cloth, onto the tray.  Support the sides of the roll with several same-sized, long, straight glasses placed along each long side to help the roll “set” as it chills in the freezer.  Place tray in the freezer and chill until cake is firm.
10.  Remove cake from freezer and frost with Chocolate Frosting

Chocolate Frosting:
2 squares (2 oz.) unsweetened chocolate
3 Tbsp. butter
dash of salt
2-3 Tbsp. boiling water
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

1.  Melt unsweetened chocolate in heavy pan on very low heat.
2.  Add two tablespoons of butter; melt and stir together.  Remove from heat.
3.  Have small bowl of boiling water ready. Begin adding confection sugar until it’s melted in.
4.  Add boiling water, about two tablespoons at a time, stirring very well.
5.  Continue adding as much confection sugar as needed for thick, but spreadable consistency. (probably about half a sack— two to three cups).
6.  Beat in vanilla.
7.  Using a tiny brush, brush off extra sugar/flour off roll.  Spread a very thin layer of frosting on  top of roll and around the sides.  Then frost ends, using a sufficient amount to completely cover/seal the ends of the cake roll.
8.  Using the rest of the frosting, completely frost cake roll smoothly, then decoratively swirl a pattern into the frosting with a knife to make cake resemble a log.  If frosting begins to set too quickly, dip in water and continue.
9.  Cover chocolate yule log loosely with foil, keeping foil from touching the cake and place in refrigerator or freezer to chill (depending on when you desire to serve it).
10.  Can garnish with a sprig of holly with berries when serving.
11.  To Serve:  Cut crosswise to reveal jelly-roll filling.  Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. (Tip: Put a little sugar in the whipped cream with a dash of vanilla. )

You can use holly branches with berries on it to decorate. Use a knife to draw lines on it like it’s an old log.
It will freeze wonderfully well, very versatile.
“An Old Yule Log, just for you to put on the fire at midnight.”

Tradition Spotlight:

My roommate Jenna is this week’s spotlight!

“My brother always wakes me up super early, and then we call downstairs to our parents that we are ready. We have to wait until our parents have the house ready. We sit at the top of the stairs as our parents light the fire, put out snacks and turn on Christmas music. Then our parents (still!) make us walk down the stairs holding hands, while they video tape us. Of course Jackson & I have to make sure the reindeer food we left out is gone.

Then we start in order of age, youngest to oldest, of who opens stockings first. Then we open gifts from Santa, then the rest of the gifts. As we get toward the end of the gifts, we eat snacks. Then we make Eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce. We always eat a ton, then relax and watch movies, then have a roast beef dinner.”

PS-62 days until Christmas!


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Favorite Traditions & Such

I decided to start a blog on Christmas because frankly, it makes me giddy just to talk about. I’ve loved Christmas as long as I can remember. In my (very humble, of course) opinion, my family has some of the absolute best Christmas traditions. Even my cousin agrees:

My cousin Samuel and I discussing our family’s Christmas traditions in September 2012. Samuel: “Once [everyone else] hears about our Apples to Apples tourneys, ROOK, night swims, and the rest of our Christmas traditions they will be extremely jealous 🙂 ” (photo: Alissa Hale)

Two funny stories about me just to help you get to know me a little better:
When I was about six, I was lying in bed on Christmas Eve when all the adults were still in the living room, long ago supposed to have been asleep. But of course I was so excited and was still awake–and that’s when it happened. I saw Santa’s sleigh. I’ve always remembered that…and sometimes I still wonder…
A few years later, I still felt a special bond to Santa. So of course, I put in a special request to my Grammie (she’s one of Santa’s helpers!)-I wanted a book about the North Pole, written by none other than the man in the red suit himself! Because Santa is amazing (and I have the best family in the world)-I got my book! I still have it and I’ve never questioned who wrote it. Who says you can’t still believe when you’re 19?!

Now, back to matters at hand. Christmas just makes me happy, I’m happy for no reason middle of September-December (well, I have a reason, but everyone else doesn’t think so!) I’m counting down to Christmas! I admit it, I’m just like Pinky Rabbit! (Sidenote: For those of you out there with kids, this is a perfect book to read around Christmas time! See picture below or buy it here!)

So I thought it would be interesting to talk to some of my friends and family and see what THEY love about Christmas (though of course I’ll intersperse my favorite traditions!)

It’s funny how similar most families’ traditions are, and yet they’re subtly different. For instance, every single person I talked to starts their Christmas morning with their respective family opening stockings. Some do it by age, youngest all the way up to oldest (as we do in my family).

One of my favorite traditions in my own family is the fact that my grandmother has hand-sew stockings for each of the grandchildren (as her mother did for my mom’s generation). Guess I’m going to have to learn how to sew before I have grandchildren to keep this going…

Alissa opening her hand-sewn Christmas stocking on December 25, 2010. (photo: Randy Gerdes)

There will be “Tradition Spotlights” at the end of each blog post, just to give you a couple of ideas if you’re looking to start new traditions in your own family, or perhaps simply to appreciate the traditions of other families!
Also, you are more than welcome to comment and share your favorite traditions with me! Who knows, you just might get your own “Tradition Spotlight”!

This week’s “Tradition Spotlight” is Cathy Burson, a close friend of my family:

“Every Christmas Eve when I was little, we would gather at my great grandparents’ house with all the layers of the family, then when they were gone, at my grandparents’. My grandmother would always give us handmade gifts. One year she gave all of us handmade double knit rugs and we had so much fun with them that year!

Cathy Burson holding up the handmade double knit cloth rug given to her by her grandmother one Christmas. (photo: Alissa Hale)

“In our family now,” Cathy continued, “we love going to Christmas Eve services. In the past few years, my son Will and I have made it a tradition to go the the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concerts. We always get up Christmas morning and do Santa. Santa presents are wrapped and are under the tree (but they weren’t there the night before!) We still call it Santa, even though we have teenagers. When Wes, our son was little, we put up a big tree in the family room. We always had to close his door so that the strange man (Santa!) wouldn’t come into his room. That’s something that always gets brought up, ten years later!

Of course, we all have our favorite foods on Christmas-including a sweet potato casserole with brown sugar and pecan topping, cornbread dressing (my grandmother’s recipe), and of course, my husband’s favorite we always have, pumpkin pie.”

(Teaser: Both the cornbread dressing & sweet potato casserole recipes will be part of my next blog post: favorite Christmas recipes!)

The Christmas tree on Christmas morning last year, before the madness began! (photo: Alissa Hale)

*An aside: Natalie, my first name, means “birthday,” specifically referring to Christ’s birthday. Though I know my mom likes the name, I think half the reason she named me Natalie is because of her own love for Christmas!

PS-69 days until Christmas!