Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Calendar Christmas Eves

When I was quite little we would spend Christmas Eve singing carols around the Christmas Tree, make sure we had left a piece of shortbread and a glass of milk for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer, put our stockings under the tree and then hopped in to bed to sleep soundly awaiting the morning.
As I got older we would often go to a midnight church service. But another Christmas Eve event was the local Carols by Candlelight (see Christmas Music post) at the football oval. This was community singing of carols, led by the Salvation Army band, with participants holding lighted candles. Carols by Candlelight evenings are still held in most Australian communities these days, but not often on Christmas Eve - although the original event in Melbourne is to this day held on Christmas Eve.
Of course the Christmas Tree lights were always, and are still, left on all night so Santa can see his way.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent Calendar Christmas Music

I have two specific memories of music at Christmas time. In our capital city, Melbourne, a tradition was begun in 1938 of Carols by Candlelight. In a public outdoor ampitheatre a large combined choir and solo artists would sing carols. The audience sat on the grass and held lighted candles. My grandmother was part of the combined choir for many years when I was a little girl, and whilst I don't remember attending the actual carols we always watched it on television. Sadly the tradition has become "glorified" over the years and instead of being a good old-fashioned community sing-a-long the carols have become a major production with popular artists often ruining the lovely old carols and singing songs no-one knows. I still watch it each year though. The tradition was copied in many towns and in my hometown it was held on Christmas Eve at the local football ground. We would go to the carols, sing our hearts out and then go home and wait for Santa to arrive.
My second memory is of singing carols around our own Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Just the four of us, but we did it every year before we went to bed.
And of course once it gets to December 1st I give myself permission to play Christmas carols. I must have at least 30 Christmas CDs, and have to be restrained from buying more each year. I just love them! My favourite carol is "Silent Night" and I think my favourite group singing carols is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But I have a lot of favourite solo artists too - and Elvis singing duets (remixed) with various artists is also special.
Click on the controls here to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing "Silent Night".

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Calendar Christmas Stockings

Check out my entry for December 9 Grab Bag - Christmas Stockings. I jumped the gun!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent Calendar Holiday Memories

December / January Birthdays and Anniversaries? Do they come in any other months? Our first grandchild, Avalon May CROMB, was born on December 4th - she has just turned 15. Where have the years gone? Our daughter-in-law Janine Maree ROBERTS (nee GIRI) had her birthday on December 13th. My grandmother Beryl GOOD nee WALSH was born on 5th December 1903 and died on 2nd August 1996. My grandfather Lindsay George Arnold GOOD was born on 13th January 1897 and died on 14th January 1965. My husband's birthday is January 3rd. My step-daughter Karen Lynette CROMB, nee ROBERTS, has her birthday on 26th December. I was first married on 5th January 1974, and my second marriage was on 17th January 1998. All in all December / January are full of holiday happenings for our family.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent Calendar Fruit Cake Friend or Foe

Over the years I have decorated a number of fruit cakes for Christmas. Usually I would make the fruit cake a week or so before Christmas and although it was tradition to put almond icing on the cake no-one really liked almond icing so I would use put royal icing. Then I would paint a santa picture on the icing using food colouring. Usually we had all had so much to eat by the time we got to the Christmas cake that no-one felt like eating fruit cake. I haven't got any photos on my creations. And I haven't decorated a cake for a number of years.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent Calendar Christmas Gifts

Christmas Gifts were either from Santa Claus or from our parents. The presents from Santa were small, miscellaneous gifts with the larger presents from our parents. That way we knew it was a question of whether our parents could afford a present rather than whether Santa could or couldn't bring us what we wanted.
I remember the year I learned the secret about Santa - I had discovered some presents in my parents' room and told my younger brother. He decided to dob me in and told my mum I had been snooping. Mum told me I had spoiled the secret, but in actual fact it had never occurred to me that finding the gifts meant Santa was a fantasy. Perhaps I would have realised on Christmas morning!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Advent Calendar Grab Bag - Christmas Stockings

When I was very young (not sure just how old) my aunt gave my brother and me a Christmas Stocking each. They were quite large, and were made of red mesh fabric. We used the stockings each year for the presents we received from Santa. When my own daughter was born in 1976 I made her a red fabric stocking and painted a picture of Santa, and her name, on the front. She still displays this stocking despite being 34 years old! When my step-children (both older than my own daughter) presented us with grandchildren I made each of them (a total of 5) a stocking - also painted with a Santa picture and their name. These are also hung each year. The oldest grandchild has just turned 15!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Advent Calendar Christmas Cookies

My Mum makes the most yummy shortbread - all year round! But it was originally made at Christmas time and forms one of my earliest memories of Christmas. She also makes fruit mince pies which are very nice. Don't remember any other specific Christmas cookies as such.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Advent Calendar Santa Claus

It was Santa Claus who brought the presents that were left in our Christmas stockings. Our 'main' presents came from Mum and Dad. Thus there was never any need to explain why Santa couldn't bring us something we had asked for as we knew it was Mum and Dad who had to be able to afford the bigger gift whereas Santa brought us the smaller 'stocking fillers'. Our stockings were left under the Christmas tree and we children were under strict instructions that we weren't to enter the lounge room until we had Mum and Dad with us - we were allowed to get up fairly early though! We always left some shortbread and a glass of milk for Santa, and a carrot for the reindeer.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Advent Calendar Holiday Foods

Every year in my memory we have ha a special Christmas Pudding. My mother always made it, with great tradition attached - everyone in the house at the time had to stir the mixture and make a wish. The pudding was always made about October, and was cooked in a calico pudding cloth. It was cooked in a big pan of boiling water for at least 4 hours on the day it was made, and then another 2 hours on Christmas Day. Silver coins (threepences, sixpences and one shillings) were added to the mixture before it was tied up in the cloth. When Australia changed to decimal currency our coins had less silver content and it wasn't safe to cook the new coins, so for some years we poked the coins in after the pudding had been dished up. Eventually I obtained a stash of old coins which were cooked in the pudding and then exchanged for 'real' money.
I first made this pudding when I was 14, after my parents had split up and Mum hadn't made the pudding. For the next few years my grandmother made a pudding for the family of each of her children. When she was no longer able to do it I took on the task for our branch of the family.
But the story of this particular pudding began long before my memories of it. I was originally given a handwritten copy of the recipe by my grandmother. When she died I inherited her old cookbooks, including one which I have every reason to believe belonged to her mother. It was a Methodist Ladies Recipe Book from 1906. There, in black and white was the exact same recipe, much used because it was very bespattered. I believe my great grandmother first made the pudding for her family. My grandmother certainly made it for her family. Then my mother made it for us. I made it for a number of years and now I have passed the role of pudding maker on to my daughter as my illness means I am unable to do it myself.
Here's the recipe!

Christmas Pudding Recipe

Cream 1lb. fresh butter with 1lb. sifted sugar, add 8 well-beaten eggs, and stir until the mixture is quite smooth. Have the following dry ingredients ready :- 1lb. raisins, 1lb. currants, ½ lb. sultanas, ¼ lb chopped almonds, ½ lb. finely cut lemon peel, 1lb. flour, ½lb. breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon mixed spice, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ salt spoon of salt. Add these to the butter, sugar and eggs, and stir well until thoroughly mixed. A gill of brandy may be added. Boil for 8 hours.

[Points to remember: 1lb. = 454g ½ lb. = 227g ¼ lb. = 113g

Add the beaten eggs slowly – so the mixture doesn’t curdle, but it isn’t a catastrophe if it does.

Add the brandy to the fruit to soak over night.

Mix the flour into the fruit before adding to the egg and sugar mix.

No need for ½ lb. lemon peel – just a reasonable amount, or use some mixed peel, again, probably don’t need ½ lb.

Flour is Plain Flour.

Mixed Spice, not All Spice.

Good pinch of salt – you won’t have a salt spoon.

Everyone in the housed on the day you make it must stir the mixture and make a wish.

Must boil the pudding cloths (calico) before use – every time even if you re-use the cloths from year to year. Easier to just buy new cloths each year though. Throw out water used to boil cloth as it will have size in it from calico processing.

Flour the wet pudding cloth before adding the mixture – more rather than less is better. This keeps the water out of the pudding, but it also helps make the nice crust on the outside of the pudding.

Make two or three puddings from the mixture. Try to keep reasonably the same sizes.

Tie with string – nice and tight.

Water must be boiling when you put puddings into pot. Must stay boiling. If adding water it must be boiling water. Boil for 4 hours.

Hang puddings in laundry or somewhere where the air can get at it.

Check cloth occasionally as it is drying out to make sure it isn’t going mouldy around the tied up bit.

Boil again for at least two hours on Christmas Day – put into boiling water.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Advent Calendar Christmas Tree

As a child we had real Christmas trees - but whilst I loved the smell of the needles I was always disappointed in the shape of the tree. As a teenager we graduated to a silver imitation tree with a perfect shape! The tree was always decorated by Mum, me and my brother with decorations that we retained from year to year - in fact I still use a few and I'm now 57! I still use an artificial tree now, and each year I add one new decoration to my collection. I have given each of my five grandchildren a new decoration every year since they were born.
I don't remember any particular traditions with the trimming of the tree - except we put it up early in December. After I was married I put the tree up on the first weekend in December each year. Unfortunately ill-health means I can no longer trim my own tree, so my daughter has been pressed into service to decorate it for me for the past two years.