Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Holidays 2018 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
The holidays of my youth began early on Thanksgiving with the muffled clanging of pans in the kitchen as my mother started to prepare the annual feast. Sometimes I stayed in my warm bed and waited for the first good smells from the oven to waft to my bedroom at the back of the house; other times I leaped up and ran, still in my nightgown, to help her cube bread for sage stuffing.
The excitement built all day, marked by tantalizing aromas permeating the house, the TV soundtrack of the Detroit Lions playing the Green Bay Packers and, if we were lucky, the first dusting of snow outside. Finally, in late afternoon, my grandparents arrived.
“Hello, little pooch,” my grandfather greeted our small dog as he gingerly patted her head from his place of honor in my father’s armchair. In the rocking chair opposite, my grandmother accepted a small glass of beer from my father, whose name, Gerald, she pronounced with a hard “G.” At some point shortly before dinner my grandfather sneaked off to the kitchen to spray whipping cream meant for the pumpkin pie directly into his open mouth.
Christmas dinner was much the same, only with ham instead of turkey. But the holiday excitement started earlier, with the baking of Christmas cookies — spritz, ginger, “snowballs” and fried “angels” dusted with powdered sugar — and the long-anticipated trip to the Christmas tree lot to pick out a fragrant evergreen.
Not normally patient, my father took his time, debating the merits of each tree before finally choosing just the right Douglas fir. Back home he maneuvered it into its red-and-green stand, strung it with multi-colored lights — both accompanied by much muttering — and fetched the boxes of blown-glass ornaments from the attic. Then he settled down in his armchair to supervise the decorating, making sure the ornaments were evenly distributed and that the aluminum tinsel hung freely, a single strand to a branch.
On Christmas Eve he sometimes supervised the spiking of eggnog while my mother set out bowls of mixed nuts in their shells and the kind of hard, filled candy you can only find now at “old-fashioned” general stores. Then they plugged in the tree lights, turned off the overheads and played “The Little Drummer Boy” on the big stereo as we gazed at the twinkling tree. Magic.
My youth is long over, but the holidays still hold their magic for me. I love the reverent carols, the spicy aromas, the glow of lights, the general good cheer, and the warmth of hearth, home and family. And, of course, the blanket of snow that transforms our scenic landscape into a winter wonderland.
In these pages we share some of our favorite holiday traditions, from artfully blown and painted glass ornaments to the perfect Christmas tree, from shopping at holiday art and craft markets to baking and decorating gingerbread. We take you to Charlevoix for Christmas at “the Castle” and to Cross Village for a holiday open house that embraces visitors.
We introduce you to chefs whose eggnog cocktails and vegan holiday feasts will inspire your celebrations, and offer suggestions for great local books for gift-giving.
Finally, Chris Smith shares his own holiday memories in a special essay.
Wishing you and yours happy holidays!
— Marta Hepler Drahos