Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas Break - A Time for Traditions & Rejuvenation

Just like every other teacher in this world, I had a count down going for Christmas Break the moment we came back from Thanksgiving Break. Now, before you judge me I'd just like to say that I really do enjoy my kids, but I enjoy my breaks just as much as they do too! And for me, Christmas Break is more than just a time to be away from students, lesson plans, and grading, it's a time for some of my favorite traditions that surround the Christmas holidays. Although the traditions themselves and the people I share them with have changed a little over the years by time and circumstance, by and large, what goes on each year is the same comforting experience I so look forward to each break. So, I thought it would be fitting for me to take a little time on the last day of 2014 to share with you the two Christmas Break traditions that make me happy beyond belief and rejuvenated for the year to come.

Christmas Eve Dinner

Finished product -
best served
over white rice.
Starting our creole with
roux and the holy trinity
of cajun cooking -
onions, peppers, and celery.
For those of you who don't know, my mom is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As a result of her cultural upbringing, I get to experience many things only those who are related to crazy Cajuns can even begin to understand. Although many of those "experiences" (if you could call them that) will probably never be shared on this blog, one that I can share centers around the Christmas Eve dinner of shrimp creole my mom always prepares using my Mère's recipe. I can't remember a Christmas Eve spent with my family where we were not eating Shrimp Creole with a green salad and garlic bread as sides. As I've gotten older, I have spent more time in the kitchen with mom helping her get the meal prepared and this past year's Christmas Eve was no different. This year we traveled to Kentucky to have Christmas with my Dad's family at my Mema & Pepa's historic house we lovingly refer to as Mock's Creek. This year's Christmas Eve was one of my favorites since I spent nearly the whole day with just my mom - which I can't even begin to tell you when we did that last. First, we started the day out with massages and then we spent the rest of the afternoon making the shrimp creole - complete with a copy of Mère's recipe with some hand-written notes on it mom has added over the years. It came out delicious as always with plenty of left-overs for us to graze on after our Christmas lunch in the woods. I think one of the reason's I love this tradition so much - besides that it is one of the many examples of how delicious the food from Louisiana really is - is because it allows our family to truly come together as we sit around the table with my dad's family enjoying a meal from my mom's family cookbook.

Christmas Lunch & Gift Exchange
Christmas Lunch at the
Shelter House
Photo Credit: Steve Taylor
As with many families, our family's Christmas gift exchange has evolved over the years as grandchildren grew up and the family expanded. Additionally, with the passing of my Mema two years ago, we decided to change up our gift exchange location and with that, put a different twist on the traditional lunch menu this year. But even with all of that, the original premise of our family's Christmas day this year turned out much like the Christmas days I experienced growing up - in fact, I think this year was one of the best Christmas days I've ever enjoyed. Traditionally, my Mema would would cook a beef rib roast that she would serve with horseradish and various side dishes from her own little repertoire of meals. This year, we decided to spend the day on our timber farm in Kentucky where several years ago my Pepa built a shelter house complete with a stone fireplace. Since it would be difficult to replicate the rib roast and dishes my Mema traditionally cooked in the woods, my dad and Uncle Steve grilled ribeye steaks and we wrapped some potatoes in tin foil and cooked them in the fireplace to serve with the steaks. We also had a green salad and some munchies as appetizers while we waited on our Christmas meal to be served. The shelter house was cozy and warm despite the high for the day only being in the low 40's, which for this Florida girl is just a bit chilly!
Ridge-top view on the Elk Cave
property Christmas Day
After our meal, we all got on the 4-wheelers to check timber stands with Pepa and visit the latest spot where we had just harvested some sassafras and sycamore timber.  Afterwards, we drove back to the shelter house where each family proceeded to fill all the stockings we had hung earlier on the mantle the guys had made out of a sycamore branch the day before. Unlike in years past, we agreed to just do stocking-stuffers this year in the style of Mr. Dog & his Deep Woods friends from the story of "Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn," which we read each year before exchanging gifts.
Dad reading "Christmas at the
Hollow Tree Inn" before our
stocking gift exchange.
This is a tradition that goes back long before I was born, and each year my Dad and Uncle Steve take turns reading their childhood favorite to the family gathered around. We also always listen to my Pepa as he reads the story of Jesus' birth from the Bible before opening our gifts, which is both humbling and reminding of what Christmas is truly all about. Although this year put a bit of a spin on our Christmas Day, I had the best time modernizing some of our Christmas traditions with my family this year, and I can't wait until next year!

Taylor Family Christmas 2014
Photo Credit: Steve Taylor

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