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Holiday traditions, gifts from the heart gain value with time

The making of Christmas fudge, I've come to find out, is a lesson in perseverance and sometimes, good reflection. This is well-known to the female relatives on my mother's side who partake in the annual ritual as a tribute, of sorts, to our late grandmother.

It's hard not to think of the woman who always made holiday fudge when you're standing at the stove, stirring a pan of sugar and condensed milk until it clings to the sides of the pan just so, or mixing marshmallow and chocolate in measurements I'm not allowed to share with anyone outside of family because that was the deal when she handed over her recipe years ago.

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas were always busy ones for her as she churned out batch after batch to be packed in foil and recycled note card boxes, and doled out to family and friends.

Her mouth-watering fudge was something you could always count on. No matter what Santa missed on your list, there was always a slab of the stuff with your name on it under the tree along with the other home made things she gifted: Irish wool mittens, scarves and hats, occasional sweaters and the awkward-colored crocheted vests she gave to all the girls a year or so after they went out of style.

Gifts of the heart-felt sort.

Useful and thrifty, too, for the woman who didn't have much but always managed to make do.

After living a somewhat gilded life as a child, she learned the value of resourcefulness while raising a family during the Great Depression — with little help, I might add, from a husband who drank most of his paycheck come Friday night.

She knitted and sewed clothing for her kids using material from the hand-me-down dresses from family and friends. She canned vegetables, learned how to stretch a roast into three meals and went to work when a lot of her contemporaries didn't.

They were often hard times, but they were simpler times. And somehow, she saw the value in that.

"I don't know how you kids can afford to raise a family these days," she would say, shaking her head.

And that was back in the 1980s.

Times are a lot tougher than that for many who are trying to make do these days; many are cutting back and resorting to the thrifty habits of days gone by.

No doubt it would be easier if celebrating the Christian holiday wasn't mostly about making a big splash that would ripple the economy and warm our loved one's hearts.

Really, why does every kiss have to begin with some kind of diamond encrusted bauble?

I heard that once again while I was in the middle of making fudge this past weekend and my dad, who is in his 80s now, called to say "hello" and offer up his annual lament over the commercialization of a Christian holiday that is, after all, supposed to represent a wondrous, blessed birth.

When I was younger his "Bah, humbug!" attitude used to rankle me. But now I understand his stance and his reminiscent longings.

"Christmas wasn't like it is today," my dad said, reflecting on Christmas past, when it was tradition to wait until after church on Christmas Eve to decorate the tree with homemade ornaments and strings of cranberries and popcorn, which you would later lay outside on the bare maples to feed the winter songbirds. How there weren't so many presents under the tree, and those that were given out Christmas morning were always simple, modest tokens that, more often than not, were hand-made.

Gifts of the heart-felt sort.

"It might not seem like much in this day and age," my dad told me. "But we were always happy with that."

Michele Miller can be reached at miller@sptimes.com or at (727) 869-6251.

Holiday traditions, gifts from the heart gain value with time 12/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 9:07pm]

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