Many of us here at the inns come from very different backgrounds, and we love that, because each person brings something new to the table and makes it a very fun, diverse group to work with (I can now personally attest to this, having had a blast at my first company Christmas party last week!) It is no different with the holiday traditions that we have. The beautiful thing about this time of year is that no matter your background, you have some kind of holiday tradition that means something to you. They’re all different, but we have them in common all the same.
Stephanie, your previous fantastic blogger, was quick to answer my inquiry about her traditions with not only a thoughtful answer, but a short excerpt from her blog about it! She and her husband Jeff celebrated a pretty traditional holiday with her family, until they departed San Francisco Bay in 2005 for a long cruise in their sailboat. They spent Christmas alone, just the two of them and their dog. They anchored in a quiet bay and, though they were surrounded on all sides by dense fog, had managed to find a perfect little shaft of sunlight to take refuge in, like a Christmas gift. “We had peaceful Christmas music on, a nice meal, and we just relaxed and enjoyed the solitude and peace, giving each other the gift of time together and undivided attention,” Stephanie recalled. That first Christmas was so incredible for them, they have aimed for that same sense and feel every year since. They prepare a special brunch and dinner, and spend the day enjoying the wonders of the natural world around them and giving thanks for their blessings. “It’s now become my most favorite holiday, just because of this rare, unfettered time together,” she said.
Chef Molly hasn’t lived here very long, and fondly recalls big family gatherings on Christmas Eve at her grandmother’s house. Since her Noni passed in January, Molly is facing the first Christmas without her. But luckily she has her aunt, our own Stephanie, to spend time during the holiday with. Her mother has also started a new tradition of coming to the island for a New Year’s visit!
I wrote a bit about Anna Maria and Dave’s favorite holiday foods in a previous blog, but here I’ll share more about their tradition as a whole. On Christmas Eve, Dave’s family gathers for a traditional Slovac meal called the Velija, a 12-course epic feast that was eventually cut down to six by his parents. The meal signifies the sweetness, sourness and sweetness of life. Anna Maria participated in this tradition for almost 20 years before they moved to the islands. They even replicated it here before Coho was opened! They would arrive at Dave’s parents’s home and place their gifts under the tree, then start the evening off right with a round of Brandy Alexanders and appetizers (not exactly a part of the tradition). They shared a running family joke that the drinks were there to take the edge off one course of the dinner, which was prunes, so it was unanimously the least favorite. They would wait until the first star of the evening was sighted before sitting down to eat.
“In the center of the table, there was a single poinsettia, two large silver candlesticks, a manger, and under the table, some straw. (When we brought our black lab, he was always confused by the straw under the table since it reminded him of the farm where we lived.) At each place setting there was an oplatky – a communion-like wafer – made by a local convent with scenes of the nativity embossed on it. We lit the candles and shared the wafers around the table after a few blessings made by my father-in-law. There was always plenty of wine for toasting. We shared more readings and carols in between courses and with each bottle of wine our voices became a non-harmonious cacophony,” Anna Maria fondly recalled. They would enjoy their six courses and adjourn to the living room to open gifts and share the joy of the season.
As for me, I come from a small family – I only have a couple of cousins, and no siblings. So we didn’t have a lot of traditions. But the two I recall most tenderly both have to do with music. My mother is an extraordinarily talented musician – there isn’t much she can’t play, including the bagpipes – but she is a wonder on the piano. She’s also been a music teacher for over three decades. So, as far back as I can remember, a few days before Christmas, my grandmother, my mother and I would gather around the piano at home and sing Christmas carols together. It is something my mother and grandma took very seriously, and I always kind of rolled my eyes at it (as young children and teenagers will do), but now that we have stopped due to my grandmother’s age and now, distance, I would very much love to do it one more time. They understood that it was time that we would never get back; I, unfortunately, was too young to grasp the significance of that truth until the tradition had run its course. I particularly recall how happy it made my grandma. She had a rough, poor childhood and an unhappy marriage, and so to see her in moments of true joy was rare.
My other tradition also started with my mom. Being that I am a female who came of age in the late 90s, I was the world’s biggest *NSYNC fan (you remember them, right?). *NSYNC gave my mom and I something to bond over, and kept us close throughout my tumultuous teenage years. They released a CD of Christmas music in 1998, when I was twelve; so that year, we took to decorating the tree together with that CD playing on a loop for as long as it took us to finish. It’s something we did every year thereafter until I moved out at the age of 22. I really hope I can do that with my mom again soon. I still listen to those songs at Christmas time, and they still make me just as happy as they did 15 years ago!
So go ahead, break out your holiday traditions, whether they be with friends or family. Cherish them, and do your best to keep them alive. Because it isn’t what you receive in a box this holiday season that you’ll remember – it’s the things that were important enough to bear repeating season after season, and the people you did them with, that you’ll never forget. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Tucker House, Harrison House, and Coho!