Grandma's Wine Biscuits ♥ "The True Story of the Tree Fairies" ♥ Christmas Media
Christmas Books ♥ Christmas Cartoon Quiz ♥ "The Double Christmas Gift" ♥ Our Own Traditions
Christmas Music ♥ "The Gift Behind the Gift" ♥ "Gift of the Magi" and Other Stories
"The Ghosts of Christmas Past": A Vintage RI Essay ♥ Christmas Poetry ♥ Christmas Places
Sugar cookies? Not in our home! My aunts and cousins were prodigious bakers during holidays, and my Mom on a smaller scale since it was only the three of us. But since we were of Italian heritage, our cookies were different. On Easter and Christmas we had "butterballs," which were tremendously popular with about every nationality. I've seen recipes for them online called "Russian tea cakes" and "Mexican cookies," among other things. My Lanzi relatives and Mom also made almond bars and molasses cookies (the latter made as a bar as well, chewy and delicious with the nice strong taste of dark molasses). More ambitious bakers made "wandi," a crumbly confection of ribbon-like dough deep fried, "tied" into a bow, and sprinkled with confectioners sugar, or the classic Italian struffoli, but more than likely you ordered these two from the nearest neighborhood bakery, which were scattered liberally over the city up through the 1970s. But my favorite of all the cookies were wine biscuits. The latter are, in the British sense, a crisp cookie, not a dinner bread. Wine biscuits can be purchased in many stores that sell ethnic or Italian food, but the commercial ones are usually extremely crumbly and have dyes added to them to make them look red or purple. (Some of them even include pepper.) <ugh> Mom fiddled with the recipe a bit to cut down on the sugar, added more wine, and her recipe provides a firm, crunchy cookie with just a faint sweet taste of wine. Traditionally you ate these dunked in wine, but they're fine plain or dunked in milk or coffee.
|4 cups of flour
3/4 cup of sugar
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup strongest burgundy wine you can find (Hearty burgundy is best.)
2/3 cup of corn or canola oil
Using a large mixing bowl (big ceramic or glass pasta bowls work as well), mix the dry ingredients first, then add oil and water to a "bowl" you have made of the dry mixture. Using a large sturdy spoon, mix ingredients until they begin to stick together. Then you must knead the mixture by hand until it is completely mixed and smooth. Do not overknead! If the dough is sticky, add a little flour; if it's dry, add a little wine. End product should be a smooth, slightly shiny mass of dough with a "pebbled" type surface. If the wine you bought is dark enough, it may have a slightly purplish cast. Make a "loaf" of this completely kneaded dough and set it on a slightly floured surface so it won't stick.
Slice a piece of the loaf off and roll dough into a tube the width of your index finger and at least twice as long; the tubes should be made doughnut shapes around 2 - 2 1/2 inches in diameter (you may have to cut off or lengthen tubes at times). Make sure the ends are "fastened together" if you want nice round cookies. Place cookies on cookie sheet covered in wax paper and bake in oven at 325 degrees until brown on the bottom. (Check after 20 minutes and turn cookie sheet around. Let it go another 10 minutes, then keep checking.) (I like them burnt on the bottom but that's just me . . . <g>)
You can make the wine biscuits look more attractive by mixing up one egg in a small bowl and using a small basting brush to brush the egg on top. This leaves them with a nice shiny glaze.
In November of 1994, I hit an emotional nadir. It began the Friday of Veteran's Day weekend, when, after an oil change and minor repair at Tune-Up Clinic, my car's engine caught fire. The repair shop manager assured me their insurance would cover the damage to my little silver Dodge Neon, which otherwise was in good repair and only needed some cosmetic tweaking to look nearly new.
A week later, my endocrinologist called. (Since my thyroid cancer surgery in 1990, I must have periodic checkups to make sure certain endocrine levels are balanced.) She told me I needed another thyroid scan as my blood test had come back with suspicious signs. I was terrified, not only that the cancer had returned, but because the thyroid scan in the past had been a very invasive procedure. At one point you sit with a huge scanner over your face for 10 minutes. A severe claustrophobe, I emerged from the previous scan in hysterics.
The following week, on the day after Thanksgiving, my budgie Merlin died. He had been ill off and on for most of the year, and the vet could not make out what was wrong with him. Very much part of the family, Merlin was a "character" who even my co-workers knew. His funny habits, like preferring pork chops to seeds and playing soccer with the cat busy balls I bought for him, were always recounted. I was devastated by his death and certainly not prepared for the call a week later from the insurance company for Tune-Up Clinic. They insisted the fire was my fault (dried oil on my engine!) and they would not pay the claim! [Our lawyer had to threaten to sue them for the repair value of the car, almost $10K, before they would relent.]
So I was carless, birdless, and awaiting potentially horrible medical news when my friend Juanita appeared on our doorstep. She had been super-supportive during the crisis, driving me to work (at that time we worked in the same building) and providing a shoulder to cry on, and her husband was on the lookout for a good used car for me. I was surprised to see her—and even more surprised when she carried into our apartment a seven-foot Frasier fir tree. She had heard me say I had been dreaming of a live Christmas tree and she and a mutual friend, Betty, had bought one for us. Needless to say, I was in tears at this gesture. Later on I jokingly dubbed them "the tree fairies." We enjoyed the fragrant tree all through Advent and Christmastide.
Several weeks after Christmas the thyroid scan took place. I sat tensely next to James in the waiting room of Northside Hospital, reading the 23rd Psalm and clutching a handkerchief that a friend, Ken, had prayed over in church. Once in the examination room, I was hit with two surprises: the scan machinery had changed to a much less invasive structure, and Andy, the sympathetic head technician, was on duty. When he found out I was terrified, he sat next to me holding my hand throughout the entire 25-minute procedure.
We had returned to the waiting room for only a few minutes before Andy came out and said everything was clear. We walked out of the hospital to a beautiful, cloudless blue sky. James looked upward and remarked, "Everything looks so much brighter." We ate breakfast, then announced the news to friends at lunch. Later I posted the events to our friends online on GEnie, as good news should always be shared. But I was still in shock. It took me all day to realize God had given me my life back.
But then maybe once you've been touched by "tree fairies," nothing is ever quite the same again.
Don't you just love the classics that bring joy to the airwaves at Christmastime? Here are my favorites!Best Christmas Viewing on TV
Visit Rick Goldschmidt's The Enchanted World of Rankin-Bass for information on the original broadcast of Rudolph and other Rankin-Bass Christmas presentations.
I talk a little more about these specials in "Those Wonderful, Wonderful Christmas Specials (and Movies)."
Don't find your favorite here? Possibly not, since I'm not a fan of It's a Wonderful Life (don't faint) or The Year Without a Santa Claus. Here's a list of Christmas movies linked to info about each movie at the Internet Movie Database.
Plus here are just some of those great
If you love all things Christmas movies, specials, and episodes, read Joanna Wilson's blog Christmas TV History!
The Christmas sermon from perhaps my favorite holiday film, The Bishop's Wife, which I remembered as a child long after I had forgotten the story of the film.
Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.
Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.
But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s His birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that.
Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.
I collect Christmas books
Of course I also enjoy Christmas fiction. One of my best discoveries came in 2001, when I picked up a copy of Gerald Toner's Lipstick Like Lindsay's and Other Christmas Stories. Mr. Toner writes Christmas stories that do not involve magical little characters, childlike adults, or children's fantasy characters. Instead, his protagonists are adults or young people who through some means or another come to learn the true, intangible qualities of the holidays. Toner has published three other books of stories, all as priceless as the first.
Here are some other favorites:
A complete list of my Christmas books in RTF format.
Which asks the question: just how many of those animated Christmas specials have you watched?
- She's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's girlfriend. What's her name?
- What is the name of the little girl who helped Frosty the Snowman escape the evil Professor Hinkle?
- What was the name of the donkey who took Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem? (Hint: He had excessively long ears!)
- What is the name of the Grinch's dog?
- Santa Claus refused to visit Junctionville because this mouse said he was "a fraudulent lie." What is his name?
- What is it Lucy Van Pelt wants for Christmas rather than toys?
- What is the name of the frosty foe who blocks Kris Kringle, adopted son of the Kringle elves, from delivering toys to the village of Sombertown?
- What kind of dessert does Tiny Tim sing for in Mr. Magoo's version of A Christmas Carol?
- Who is the frazzled woman who plays herd on her sons the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser?
- Ali and Ben Haramid force this little drimmer boy to join their performing arts caravanwhat's his name?
Bonus question: Name the little drummer boy's three animals:
_______________ the camel
_______________ the donkey
_______________ the lamb
I found this wonderful anecdote in a book called Follow the Year by Mala Powers. It was especially meaningful that year of the "tree fairies" when so many of our friends did favors for us.
John, a young African boy, listened carefully as his teacher explained why it is that Christians give presents to one another at Christmas. "The gift is an expression of our joy over the birth of Jesus and of our friendship for one another," she said.
When Christmas Day came, John brought the teacher a seashell of lustrous beauty. "Where did you ever find such a beautiful shell?" the teacher asked as she gently fingered the gift.
John told her that there was only one spot where such extraordinary shells could be found. When he named the place, a certain bay several miles away, the teacher was left almost speechless.
"Why it's gorgeouswonderfulbut you shouldn't have gone all that way to get a gift for me."
His eyes brightening, the African boy answered, "Long walk part of gift."
As the manic possessor of around 200 Christmas albums (record, cassette, CD, .mp3), I've gotten a lot choosier about what type of music I buy these days. I'm especially always on the lookout for "alternative" music rather than the fifteenth different version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Silent Night. Eventually exhausted by searches for songs I didn't haveincluding a vocal version of "Ding-Dong-Merrily on High"I found others I really liked.
Which is why I heartily recommend the following albums for those looking for alternative Christmas tunes. First is the "Revels" series, which is produced out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The original album, "The Christmas Revels," goes back many years into Christmas celebration to present songs and speeches from a medieval Christmas, including rounds and dances. I have almost all their other albums, including "Christmas Day in the Morning," "Sing We Now of Christmas" (old European carols), "Wassail! Wassail!" (early American Christmas carols and other religious songs and party dances, with several spoken reminisces in between), "To Drive the Dark Away" (Scandinavian and Russian carols, some quite dark!), "A Victorian Christmas," "Tutta Bella" (an Italian Christmas celebration), "Danse de Noel" (Cajun-French), and "The Children's Revels," which is a collection of songs from the other albums plus other songs that children especially sang during holidays past. The Revels folks also do performances of folk songs not having to do with Christmas; these have also been collected on CD and tape (see link below).
My true loves are instrumental albums, which I listen to all year long. I have such a variety of series. Several CDs I picked up in Yorktown, VA, which include Christmas carols played on dulcimers, fifes and drums, and one even on bagpipes! Two other good albums are Linda Russell "and Companie" singing older folk carols, "Colonial Folk Christmas" and "Sing We All Merrily." Several of the songs on the first album are duplicated in a slightly different version on the second, but this doesn't detract from enjoying the songs, accompanied by folk instruments such as hammered dulcimer, harp, zither, and guitar.
Other "unusual" Christmas music includes the two albums "What If Mozart Wrote 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas'" and "What If Mozart Wrote 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,'" familiar Christmas tunes done in baroque style. The first time I heard the first album I had to rush up to the record store cashier and exclaim, "What on earth is that you have on?" I bought it five minutes later. From the old Dedalus Book store in Maryland I purchased two albums of a collection by Gregg Minor, Christmas songs played on rare instruments.
The "Winter's Solstice" albums put out by Windham Hill were among my favorites with fine mixes of old carols and original New Age-type compositions, and I am sorry they no longer exist as a company. Mannheim Steamroller albums are very much in the "Top Ten" in the collection as well, joined in 1997 by their Christmas concert CD, and those of you who like Celtic music will love "The Bells of Dublin" by the Chieftains and Narada's various "Celtic Collection" albums. My two personal favorites in that area are by James Galway, whose versions of "Past Three O'Clock" and "The Shepherd's Pipe Carol" I find enchanting.
While many of my Christmas favorites contain soft performances with hammered dulcimer, harp, flute, violin, and of course the wonderful music boxes of previous centuries, I also love Christmas music done by brass ensembles. The London Brass Ensemble and several albums by the Canadian Brass hold pride of place on the shelf. Wandering away from brass, a wonderful, very much missed local bookstore going out of business supplied me with such treasures as "Candlelight Carols" (sung at Boston's beautiful Trinity Church) and medieval European Christmas music. A delightful find from a few years ago was the CD "This is Christmas," a collection of the Alfred Burt Christmas songs. Perhaps the best known Burt song is the beautiful "Some Children See Him," but I also love "We'll Deck the House" and "Bright, Bright, the Holly Berries."
Of course there's a complement of familiar standards: Mother's favorite Bing Crosby, the wonderfully mellow Perry Como, the kitschy Partridge Family (with probably my favorite arrangement of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," the alternatively rollicking and somber "John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together," the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas ("Christmastime is Here" being one of the loveliest holiday songs ever written). I even have an album of carols sung at the Brandenburg Gate, and another in Breton.
This essay by Gregg Easterbrook was originally published in The New York Times on December 24, 1983, and was reprinted in Irena Chalmer's All About Christmas (formerly The Great American Christmas Almanac), paperback edition published in 1990 by Viking Penguin. It remains one of my favorite holiday essays.The most splendid Christmas gift, the most marveled and magic, is the gift that has not yet been opened. Opaque behind wrapping or winking foil, it is a box full of possibilities. An unopened present might be anythinggems, crystal, oranges, a promise of devotion. While the present is unopened, it can rest under the tree to be regarded and speculated upon at length, becoming whatever the recipient wishes.
A link to my favorite Christmas story of all, O'Henry's "Gift of the Magi"
In a similar vein, Temple Bailey's "A Candle in the Forest"
If you've never read it, don't despair: one of Dickens' shortest efforts and one of his best: A Christmas Carol
On our window sill tonight,
Like the shining Christmas star
Guiding shepherds from afar,
Lead some weary Traveler here,
That he may share
Our Christmas joy.
. . . . . Isabel Shaw
Sitting under the mistletoe
Tired I was; my head would go
Some packages are lovely
It's not the pretty ribbon
Wrap a little of yourself
Songs of Christmas
Carolers singing as of yore,
May the sights and sounds of Christmas
It is Christmas in the mansion,
Yule-log fires and silken frocks;
It is Christmas in the cottage,
Mother's filling little socks.
It is Christmas on the highway,
So remember while December
Wouldn't life be worth the living
I wrote this in January of 1991, after taking my husband home for Christmas to see where I had grown up. The bleakness of the city of Providence appalled him. Soon afterward the city underwent a rejuvination: a convention center opened, the Providence River was rerouted to its original course, freeing its tributaries, the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck, and creating Waterplace Park where summer concerts are accompanied by "Waterfire" performances, the Providence Place Mall was built, and for a while downtown thrived. Now it is faltering once more despite the rerouting of I-195 to create park space at India Point. But in memory I look back and remember what was...
She is a small girl, still young enough to believe in Santa Claus, bundled against winter in a heavy coat, hat, and rubber boots. She holds tightly to her mother's hand in a forest of smothering coats and jackets, excited by the cold and the streets lined with people. In preparation for the holidays, the downtown stores are touched with gold, garlands, and holly hanging everywhere, the streets themselves crossed with garlands from streetlight to streetlight. Department store windows are bright with jewel colors: toys, clothes, and candy; glitter, glint, gleam and Christmas trees. Today Santa Claus arrives, and this year, a magic year, he comes with a real-live reindeer, both standing on a fire engine plodding slowly up Westminster Street! But she is so small, and the crowd so tallshe starts to run, to jump at breaks in the crowd to spy the elusive reindeer, desperate to see the magical creature.
Mother does not follow.
Suddenly Santa and the reindeer are gone, vanished into a department store, and she is alone in a milling crowd heading either for cars and buses, or stores. She shivers now, as much with fear as with chill, huddled in the lee of a decorated window, waiting for what seems like eternity. As panic clears and instruction takes its place, she trots between shoppers and over patches of ice to the one place she knows she will be found, the meeting place of the lost. And there she is when Mother appears, next to the solid, safe iron post of the big Shepard's clock. She is scolded and hugged, and taken to sit on Santa Claus' knee.
She is older now, in her early teens. In her wallet is hoarded all the fruits of a saved allowance, and on this day after Thanksgiving, seated next to Mother, she is riding the bumping bus downtown. It is a grey day, waiting for the brightness of holiday shopping, but for now she stares at the aging neighborhoods: the three-deckers with faded paint; the shadowed windows and cramped neon beer signs of the local bars; the small markets; the "superettes," small sundries stores with candy counters to delight children; the missions; the great stone bulk of the National Guard Armory. Mothers and aging women populate the streets, and the unemployed, and the children freed from school, and even now bits of glitter and large-bulbed Christmas trees appear in upstairs windows.
Downtown has grown slightly shabbier since the day she followed the reindeer, but it still dresses brightly for Christmas. Some stores have already vanished, her beloved Newberrys only a memory now, but she plunges with joy into the festooned places left the Outlet Company, the Macy's of Providence, with its wide aisles and book department crowded next to the delightful bakery/candy department; Shepard's, the place to go when what you wanted wasn't anywhere else, floors of clothing, a snug corner for books, and the big worn ladies' "salon" upstairs with its glass bricks and big mirrors; the tawdry brilliance of the 5 & 10s remaining, Woolworths stocked with multihued candy and laughter and the scent of hot popcorn, Grants with its dream of Crayola colorsa 64 box for only 67 cents!; the Paperback Bookstore, ceiling to floor, every wall covered with books, books, books, the cashier up in a booth so more books could be racked at floor level, the air fragrant with ink and paper; the smell of hot peanuts from the Planters' store; the candy stores with aromas of heavenly chocolate; the card shops still full of life. The malls are encroaching on the city's business, but for now the stores hold on.
Hours later, Mother and daughter are at the bus stop, footsore and shifting from leg to leg, arms so full they are hard pressed to have the bus fare out. They stand before her godfather's shoe store, and even through closed door they can still smell the heavenly leather; although cold and tired, they joke and laugh and think of secret surprises. Above them the sky has turned white-grey in the falling darkness could it possibly...
A cold white star drifts from the sky, two more, then a dozen, then hundreds, lacy snow falling around the shoppers and the homeward workers, creating the Magic once more.
Now she is twenty, a college girl in disillusion, still eager to find something of Christmas. The malls gleam with cheer and modern shops, but Magic-in-hiding still beckons her to the city, a tattered city, bruised and untidy. She takes a car this time, not eager to ride the swaying bus through decaying tenements and burned-out stores. Now Woolworth's is clotted with cheap toys and clothing, Grants is transformed into a bank. The smart little dress shops, so hated by the bookworm, have languished and died. The Outlet remains, a grand old lady with empty aisles despite redecoration, but Shepard's sits silently deserted, a bleak hulk on a quiet street, the clock still standing proud, but with two frozen, dirty faces. The
hunger-bidding scent of peanuts has vanished with the store, and the beautiful used bookstore she discovered only a year before has been gutted by fire, the books smeared in smoky death on its floor. The stationery stores only make her sneeze now, full of dust and age.
But she browses what is leftthe familiar arms of the tightly stocked Paperback Bookstore, the rich linens and crystal of Pier Linen, the candy and ornaments left brightening Woolworth's, the tall lighted tree on the steps of a sober City Hall, with its creche nestled below. She returns home with a bookand a sigh.
She is home for Christmas once more, this time with husband in tow, and longs to show him the Magic, but it lies flickering in a gloom not even sunshine can dispel. But they journey to the city still, to see the construction wrought by efforts to bring the city alive again. But it is not the life of old, not the Majestic Theatre and the Loews, the department stores stuffed fat, the strolling shoppers, but banks and businesses and investment firms, and trendy "eating places," and now with the workers leaving for home, the streets are deserted. Even in the garland-decked Arcade, rescued years before from destruction, shops are empty, cashiers bored. Weary clerks close the small stores left: Woolworths decked in pale glitter, the one remaining drugstore, the bead-and-belt emporium doing business in one corner of Shepard's storefront; those people left downtown are merely sharing drinks in one corner of a converted bus kiosk. The Paperback Bookstore lost its lease to a costume jewelry store many years before. And the shell of the old Outlet, its
interior gutted by fire, lays razed upon the ground, the memories dying in cold earth.
And the wind sweeps its way up Westminster Street, past blank and papered storefronts, driving litter before it that swirls, lost, to the foot of the old Shepard's clock.
. . . . © 1991 by Linda M. Young
My "Nostalgia Place" essay about Providence from around 2000.
All About Yule (no, it's not the same as Christmas!)
Catholic Encyclopedia: Christmas
Christmas at Lighthouse Pointe
Christmas at the North Pole
Christmas Truce (I)
Christmas Truce (II)
"Country Living" Christmas History and Ideas
Dark History of Christmas Traditions
Encyclopedia Britannica's History of Christmas
Happy Christmas Games Page
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Page
Holiday Net Christmas Site
How Christmas Works
Merry Midwinter (I love the book!)
My Merry Christmas
A Reader's Digest Christmas
Revels, Inc. (cited in Music section above)
Santa's Net: Christmas Around the World
The Story of St. Nicholas (told by a Canadian Dutch family)
Tales of the Middle Ages: Christmas
Return to Seasons
Quiz Answers: 1. Rudolph's doe is Clarice. 2. Karen is the girl who saves Frosty. 3. Nestor (the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey). 4. Max is the Grinch's dog. 5. Albert Mouse wrote the insulting letter to Santa. 6. Lucy wants real estate for Christmas. 7. The Winter Warlock blocked Kris and his penguin from Sombertown. 8. Tiny Tim craves "razzleberry dressing." 9. Mother Nature copes with both her Miser sons. 10. Aaron is the little drummer boy, and his three pets are Joshua the camel, Samson the donkey, and Baa-Baa the lamb.