At this point, everyone else in America has long done with Christmas. But, my grandfather, a first generation American of Austrian descent, taught me that all the time up until Christmas Day was Advent, then came 12 full days of Christmas, and then the Epiphany.
In his world, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany were truly special times, each with its own ritual.
No Christmas decorations ’til December 1. Nativity up first. Then, wreaths and greenery. Nothing more. But, lots of carols.
Tree up on Christmas Eve, not one day earlier. Always a real tree. Live nativity Christmas Eve.
No presents ’til Christmas Day. Family together for dinner Christmas Eve and for lunch on Christmas Day.
Tree down on January 6, which incidentally, was his birthday.
Today I still try to hold these traditions, so that this time of year is as dear as it can be.
For me, the weeks before the tree are chocolate covered cherries, friends, fruit cake encased in cheese cloth soaked in bourbon, family, Christmas carols, my great grandmother’s cornbread dressing, and more time with family and friends.
My grandmother, on the other hand, was Christmas all December. She was happy to have the tree up from Thanksgiving til New Year’s, which is what she did many years after my grandfather died and she finally became comfortable returning her life to the traditions she’d known as a kid. She loved colored lights and she always served butter mints at all occasions.
A dish of them at every event. She always bought hers, never made them, which is amazing because she cooked everything else with the skill of a gourmet. When she didn’t make something and bought it, she always bought the best.
Her chosen butter mints melted in your mouth. They were sweet, with a light hint of salt, and always had a truly fresh peppermint taste. They were never the dry mints from the drug store.
In the mid-90’s, her butter mints disappeared from the shelves. But, I never forgot their flavor, texture, or smell.
Earlier this year, my mother-in-law gave me the most awesome cookbook, The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook. One of the gems of that cookbook is the recipe for butter mints. The Back in the Day butter mints are just like the ones my grandmother preferred. For the first time in years, both of my grandparents’ traditions returned to my life.
This year, my son and I made these butter mints many times, because they are like play-dough you can eat. He loves dropping the itty-bitty drops of dye into the mixture and then rolling it around in his hands. At Halloween, we made a graveyard cake with them, and he relished oozing the dye all over the kitchen.
We made them for the last time in 2012 to take to a Christmas party which was last Saturday at a friend’s house. As I enjoy the last few moments of my Christmas tree for another year, these mints remind me of the wonderful days of creating and enjoying life which have flourished in my heart and mind once again.
All photos and content © 2013, Craftinlightenment.