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I’ve been thinking about holiday traditions the past few years. I suppose this isn’t something you really ponder until children come into your life. With the niecelets—and now a nephew, born just last week—I’ve thought a lot about what was meaningful to me about the holidays when my brother and I were growing up.
The other part of this is that my brother has married into a family that celebrates very differently than we did. They do presents in a huge way. My sister-in-law can tell you what her “big present” was for each Christmas of her childhood. I barely remember my presents (only the year I got a bike). This might be because my family had less money to spend on gifts, but I’m glad now that what I remember are our traditions. Most presents pass with time (even, sadly, the bike). Traditions endure.

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Mostly I remember making things—stringing popcorn and cranberries for our tree, making chains out of strips of colored paper. I remember forming lumpy ornaments out of salty dough that we then baked and painted, and making “bells” out of cut apart egg cartons. I remember gathering evergreen branches and pinecones from the woods behind our house, and crafting things out of glitter and glue and tissue paper to give as presents. I was so proud of my little creations, so excited to give them to friends and family.
I remember dressing up and going to school in the evening for the holiday concert (going to school at night seemed a treat), and I remember craft fairs and the annual neighborhood Christmas party. It was held in the home of the neighbor with the largest house—a German family that had a barn-like great room and a Christmas tree with real candles on it.
That’s what I remember from the holidays: candles, and the smell of evergreen.

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I think of this now, as I try to create holiday traditions for the neicelets and myself—though the lion’s share of their traditions will come from their parents, of course. They get plenty of presents, what I want to focus on is the wonder, the candles, the magic. That’s what I want for myself, too.
This is the second year we’ve set up the Angel Chimes. When the candles are lit the heat causes the upper bit to rotate so the angels spin around and hit the chimes and make a tinkling noise. I was love that they were as transfixed by this as I remember being when I was a kid.

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And last night I came upon a new tradition. Here in Seattle they have Christmas Ships, which ply the waters throughout December, going to a different destination each night. The boats are decked in lights and there are carol singers onboard. You can sign up to have dinner on the ship, or you can show up at whatever beach or harbor they are visiting that evening and hear the songs from the shore. Other boats decorate themselves and join the flotilla as well, making a light-decked floating parade.
Last night the Christmas Ships were at Carkeek Park, a woodsy bit of wilderness along the shore of the Puget Sound. It had been raining hard all morning, but as dark fell it cleared up and actually got warm (warm-ish). I was at my mom’s house and walked down to the park to see the ships, on trails through the evergreen woods. The music started before I got there, I could here it, drawing me down the hill, through the trees. When I emerged from the forest the waters and sky were black, the ships shining in the dark, and music echoing out as people stood on the shore to listen.

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There was even a bonfire, to keep the chill at bay (though it wasn’t chilly at all). The only thing missing was a thermos of hot chocolate I didn’t think to bring. I won’t make that mistake again.

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There weren’t as many boats in the flotilla as I’ve seen before—the storm scared people off—but the whole thing was magical. And when the music was done, I walked back up the hill, following neighbors and families with kids (the little ones whining and begging to be carried). I couldn’t help but think that, even though they were complaining now, they would look back on these traditions in the future and remember how magical it was to walk through the dark woods to hear music and see the Christmas Ships all aglow.

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What are your holiday traditions?
These crunchy Swedish spice cookies are a new tradition for me, but I’ve been making them three years now and they show no sign of going away. I like to top them with demerara sugar and salt (flaky Maldon salt is my favorite), which brings out the flavor. They are great dunking cookies, with a cup of coffee or tea, and would be a good choice for shipping as they are fairly sturdy and the flavor will ripen over several days. Perhaps they might become one of your traditions as well.

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1/2 cup molasses                                             
1/2 cup brown sugar 
1/2 cup butter                                                  
1/4 tsp baking soda                                             
1 egg
2  1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves

Demerara sugar and (Maldon) salt to top with (I personally think this makes the cookie, so don’t skip it).
In a small saucepan, bring the molasses to a boil and boil one minute. Add the sugar and butter and stir until melted. Remove from heat and cool completely. Once cool, crack and beat the egg in a small bowl and add to molasses mixture (the molasses must be totally cool or the egg will scramble).
In a large mixing bowl sift together flour, salt, soda, and spices. Add the molasses mixture and mix thoroughly. Cover bowl and chill for at least one hour.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough (I do a small portion of the dough at a time). Roll thin and cut into desired shapes with a cookie cutter or small drinking glass (for round cookies only). Sprinkle liberally with demerara sugar and (Maldon) salt. Bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes.
Store in an airtight container. 

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Tea & Cookies

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