Tag Archives: Christmas

Twelve Treats of Christmas

My taste runs toward the savory. If offered my dessert first I’ll probably refuse. I like my veggies and my salad and my protein. But when the second week of December comes, I remember fondly all the sweet and wintry food associated with past Christmas festivities and traditions. As I sit at my desk this month, with the darkening sky outside my window and the cozy lights inside, I feel ready to share memories of some seasonal treats. For the next twelve days, starting on Monday, I’ll post one a day until Christmas. I hope these posts rekindle some of your own memories of family celebrations and good cheer.

"Studio Window with Little Lights," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2010

“Studio Window with Little Lights,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2010


Ellsworth’s Birthday

My father, my cousin Tom, my grandfather Ellsworth, and I were born near Christmas. Competing with the baby Jesus on his special day was a tricky business that often resulted in gifts labeled “Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas.”

But we were lucky to have family who loved us and made our birthday celebrations special without taking any of the joy away from Christmas. One year my cousins from Indiana gave me a gingerbread house for my birthday. I was young then – maybe seven or eight – and am not sure if Lydia, Bill, Tom, and Nancy drove east for the holiday or just sent the house. In any event, it was miraculous to me, and I can still taste those candies on the roof.

Carol and the gingerbread house

Carol and the gingerbread house

My grandfather’s birthday was December 28th. In 1913, on this date, he married my grandmother Agnes.

Sunday, December 28, 1913 – “Cold night Saturday night, cold today. Ellsworth a married man. Spent the night with his bride in Springfield. His birthday today – thirty-two years old today.” – Lydia Jane Hall.

Five and a half years later my mother Janet was born, and she and her daddy were great friends.

Ellsworth and Janet Hall, 1920

Ellsworth and Janet Hall, 1920

Ellsworth had modest taste in food and a liking for eating it in little bits throughout the day. He hid favored snacks on the shelves of the pantry and china cupboards – squares of chocolate and boxes of “Hi-Ho” Crackers are what I remember. We all knew his hiding places and helped ourselves to his stores, but I don’t think we were ever scolded or seriously admonished for this behavior.

But once a year, on his birthday, he had an extravagant treat when my mother baked him a fresh coconut cake. She was a meticulous cook and followed all recipes to the letter. She had a hard time organizing her closets, but she could beat an egg white so that it stood at attention in perfect peaks.

For this annual confection she first baked delicate layers of cake and filled them with lemon custard. Next she covered the stacked rounds with a boiled frosting of egg whites, sugar, vanilla, water, and cream of tartar. Finally, she grated fresh coconut and gently patted it onto the graceful swirls, a long and painstaking process undertaken with love and care. It was a beautiful sight – this large snowball of a cake – and my grandfather was always delighted.

"Janet's Coconut Cake," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2012

“Janet’s Coconut Cake,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2012

On Wednesday:  A New Year

Janet’s Christmas

My mother wrote this essay in the early 1980’s in answer to a request by my son to tell him how she celebrated Christmas when she was a young girl.

“We would always cut one of our trees from our woods for Christmas. It was always a hemlock, and we would have to get it the day before Christmas because the needles would drop. I would usually go on a logging sled drawn by a horse – that was when I was around your age [probably eight years old]. Later, we would drive our old truck. Often we would just take the top off a tree – that would just fit in our living room. Then the night before, we would all decorate the tree with our old favorite ornaments. We often made colored chains to put around the tree – and sometimes popcorn. But my father liked his popcorn made into popcorn balls that we kept in the back of our wood stove.

My mother always made around 3 plum puddings and a large fruitcake with white boiled frosting. We would hang our biggest knee sock on the doorknobs near the tree – one year we hung them at the foot of our beds. Before we went to bed we would leave 2 oranges on the shelf with a note for Santa Claus.

Christmas morning we would get up around 5:30. That was the time life on the farm started – cows had to be milked and fed. We were always so excited Christmas Eve that we could hardly get to sleep. The 3 of us slept in one room on that evening. When we got around eleven, I slept with my sister, and my brother had his own room.

We usually got about 5 presents Christmas morning – one of them could be skis or a sled. But we were always happy no matter what we got. Christmas was so special on the farm. The windows in the kitchen were covered with beautiful snow flakes that Jack Frost made during the night, and the wood stove gave us a very magic heat, and on the wood stove a large tea kettle sang a little tune.

We would have our Christmas dinner at noon – always a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with mashed potatoes and boiled onions, peas or corn. We would have company, but it always depended on the weather. Then in the afternoon we went sliding on our beautiful hills or ice skating on our favorite pond. We also might go down the hill to our neighbors to see their presents and play with them for a while.

Then late in the afternoon I would go out in the barn and help my father at milking time. Even if it were zero outdoors, it was always warm in the barn. Somehow 30 or 40 cows help make lots of heat.” – Janet Hall Crump, 1983

Wishing you all a warm and peaceful holiday!

"Winter Scene," Janet Hall Crump, watercolor

“Winter Scene,” Janet Hall Crump, watercolor

On Monday: Ellsworth’s Birthday

Dolls and Poodle Skirts

My parents and brother and I always spent Thanksgiving at the farm on Whirlwind Hill with my mother’s side of the family. But on Christmas and Easter we celebrated with my dad’s parents – H. A. (Gus) and Charlotte Crump.

After opening presents on Christmas morning and briefly visiting my grandparents at the farm, we drove into town to have a big mid-day dinner and spend the afternoon at the white house on Cedar Street. I dressed up in my best clothes and brought my new toys to show to my cousin Sue. Sue was a year older than I, and I have never known life without her. We’ve always been “best buds.” Aside from the time I accused her of harmonizing on “Taps” at our Girl Scout meeting (a long story), our friendship has been without strife.

Our parents – my mother Janet, and Sue’s mother Charlotte Collins (my dad’s sister) – must have coordinated the presents we got, because it seemed we almost always received the same dolls, clothes, and toys. Even at our very first Christmas together you can see how much I admired my older cousin.

Carol and Sue, Christmas, 1946

Carol and Sue, Christmas, 1946

My aunt sewed many of her family’s clothes, and sometimes she made Sue and me our Christmas outfits. In this photo Sue and her doll wear matching dresses made by Charlotte.

Janet Crump, Charlotte Barton, Harold Crump, Charlotte Crump, Carol, Sue, Christmas, 1947

Janet Crump, Charlotte Barton, Harold Crump, Charlotte Crump, Carol, Sue, Christmas, 1947

By the mid-1950’s Sue and I had little brothers, and Sue had a baby sister. And Charlotte was still sewing. For Christmas 1954 she made the poodle skirts we’re wearing in this photo taken with our great-grandmother, Charlotte Sophia Barton. (Yes, my great-grandmother, my grandmother, and my aunt were all named Charlotte, which was very confusing.) She probably made our neckwear also. I loved that skirt and the big scratchy crinoline that I wore with it. I think the skirt was made of felt.

Jeannie Collins, (in highchair), Carol Crump, Sue Collins, Charlotte Sophia Barton, Kirt Crump, Skip Collins

Jeannie Collins, (in highchair), Carol Crump, Sue Collins, Charlotte Sophia Barton, Kirt Crump, Skip Collins

My Grandma Crump fixed the same meal for us on Christmas, Easter, and other holidays – ham and potatoes. It was always ham. She would not touch chicken after growing up next to a chicken farm, so she ate copious amounts of ham. My brother sometimes speculates that all that cured meat contributed to her long life. She died just two weeks short of her 108th birthday.

Our favorite tradition on those Christmas afternoons was the “Christmas Pie.” I think it started out as the “Christmas Chimney” as you can see in this photo, but over the years it became a pie. Grandma Crump wrapped little presents from the hardware store or W. T. Grant’s (a five and dime store) and tied strings to them with our names at the end. The strings came up through a piece of paper covering the top of the chimney or pie, and we had to cut the paper to get them out. This was her version of a “grab bag,” and the presents in it were always our favorites. We looked forward to this ritual all day. Maybe it was the communal aspect of the opening, or the silliness of some of the gifts, but whatever it was, we loved it, and carried on the tradition at our own Christmas gatherings for years afterwards.

The Christmas Chimney

The Christmas Chimney

On Wednesday:  Janet’s Christmas


I used to be nearsighted. I wore glasses when I drove the car, watched movies, read street signs, needed to recognize friends from a distance, and find the dirt on the floor when I vacuumed. And then, about a year ago, the glasses just didn’t work anymore. The remedy turned out to be cataract surgery, and after I had it done this summer everything became clear and bright.

It’s wonderful to have sharp vision – except for one thing. I’ve lost that misty, romantic blur I had when I wasn’t wearing my glasses. Now I see every speck of dust on the furniture and all the wrinkles on my face – yikes! And because the Christmas lights I put up a few days ago look just like what they are – lights on a string – real candlelight has become very appealing to me.

When darkness gathers early on a December afternoon I love the twinkle of little lights or the glow of a candle. One of the best things about an Alaska winter is the way the lit-up outside tree looks after snow falls. It’s a glow that always cheers me.

"Christmas Snow," Carol Crump Bryner, 2009 Christmas card

“Christmas Snow,” Carol Crump Bryner, 2009 Christmas card

A long time ago, the farm Christmas tree was cut on December 24th and decorated with ornaments and little clip-on candles. I’m sure those lit candles were dangerous as all get-out, but what a sight they must have been for children on Christmas day. It had to be thrilling to watch the little points of flame teasing the dry needles. My mother never got over her fear of trees catching on fire, and only wanted to have the strings of electric lights lit if she was nearby. I think she was very brave to entrust me with the candle I hold in our 1948 Christmas card.

1948 Christmas Card

1948 Christmas Card

When my grandson Henry came to visit this weekend, we opened the box with the Christmas ornaments and decorations I had mailed here to Portland from Alaska. In it were the Swedish chimes my mother gave me more than forty years ago. We set it up, and I let him light the candles (something I found out later he isn’t allowed to do, which, of course, made it twice as fun for him). We turned off all the lights, cuddled together on the couch, and watched the little angels go round and round making music as the flames burned the red wax almost down to the bottom.

Henry and the candles, 2014

Henry and the candles, 2014

On Monday:  “Make-work”