This is part one of a series on the way the Nelsons have celebrated holidays! Find part I here.
In the Nelson Household, Christmas Eve is almost as much a holiday as Christmas Day itself. It has its own traditions and rhythms, and was a day we would get off of school back when we were homeschooled.
Two of the traditions covered here involve food, as befits the holiday season. The first is the tradition of making Civil War Men cookies. These are homemade sugar cookies pressed into a rather large stoneware mold we have in the shape of a gingerbread man. Afterward, they are covered in a thick icing glaze. What does this have to do with the Civil War, you might ask? Well, many of these sugar cookie men end up losing their arms, legs, or heads long before before they are consumed as a whole. Somewhat morbid, sure, but also quite funny (and tasty). I would often be assigned the task of making and molding the cookies.
The Civil War Men cookies are generally made sometime in the early afternoon. They’ll be snacked on during the day, but will generally be dessert after dinner. The dinner itself is the next tradition. Mom will make her Clam Chowder, which is a variant of a New England style clam chowder recipe. It is incredibly delicious and made all the better for the fact that we only have it on Christmas Eve.
After a hearty dinner, we proceed to the annual sibling gift exchange, for which preparations began back in August (see here). This gift exchange is a highlight of the holiday season and is a great warmup for Christmas morning. That night, we will generally watch a Christmas movie of some kind. Early on, it was It’s a Wonderful Life, which I thought was a bit boring when I was a kid. As I grew older, though, I began to appreciate it more. The worst thing that happened to that movie was colorization, though. Black and white is the only true way to appreciate it. We also had How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas on VHS. These were popular all throughout the Christmas season, though, and wouldn’t usually be watched on Christmas Eve. Later on, we added The Polar Express and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Recently, though, we have been watching Elf each year.
We settle in with our spiced wine, hot cocoa, and homemade popcorn and dim the lights. By the time the movie is over, Mom and Dad have usually gone to bed and the youngest children have fallen asleep, resolutions to stay up to catch Santa forgotten. Just a few hours hence, it will be Christmas.