For the day that culminates “the most wonderful time of the year,” Columbia families have an array of traditions that serve to make the celebration of Christ’s birth a very special day indeed. Try some of the following suggestions this year to spice up Christmas Day for you and your family in an old-fashioned way!
Midnight, Christmas Eve
Many churches in Columbia offer Christmas Eve services that commence at midnight. For those who don’t mind staying up, these services are a beautiful way to begin the 24 hours of Christmas. The congregations sing favorite seasonal hymns, enjoy the beauty of Yuletide decorations ornamenting the church and relish the final culmination of singing Silent Night by candlelight … all to remind us of “the reason for the season.”
The Early Hours
“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care … ” but someone has to put them there! Following the Christmas Eve service is a wonderful time to put on the Santa hat and stuff stockings by the fire. There are a myriad of ways to make stockings exciting for children and adults alike. Kids may enjoy finding new accessories to their favorite toys from Santa or a leash for the coming puppy! Some ideas for adult stocking stuffers are a personalized pen, a fitness device, jewelry, makeup, a pocket knife, specific accessories for choice hobbies and gift cards. And who doesn’t love candy and gum?
After stuffing the stockings, take a moment to enjoy the fire together beside the lit Christmas tree before turning in. Try burning color magic pinecones for a particularly festive experience. The coating on the pinecones causes the fire to change colors from blue and green to pink and purple … offering a lovely way to enjoy the last quiet of the evening before mayhem ensues in the morning! And don’t forget to consume the milk and cookies left out by the hearth as a reward for your labor.
Ellen Butler needlepointed personal stockings for Vandy McFaddin and her sisters about 40 years ago to replace their old felt ones, and she even needlepointed the back of Vandy’s. Ellen made probably hundreds of them for people in all of Columbia for special occasion gifts.
Whether it is an early 5 a.m. wake-up call of children jumping on your bed in excitement, or a nice late-morning sleep in, bleary-eyed family members gathered together in pajamas is a special way to all enjoy opening the stockings. Some families place the stockings outside each person’s door or at the foot of the bed, while others prefer the stockings hanging on the mantel.
Following the excitement of opening stockings, Christmas morning is a perfect time to celebrate a Southern tradition with a big family breakfast. While some families enjoy a delicious rendition of quail on toast with an egg over easy, other families branch out into other favorite breakfast treats such as chocolate chip pancakes or coffee cake.
For families with young children, it’s a miracle to eat breakfast before bursting in to see Santa’s gifts by the Christmas tree. Many families build the excitement to a climax by holding the den doors closed until Dad has had a chance to build the fire, all the while children exclaiming, “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” When the doors are finally flung open, children rush into the room to see what Santa has left behind from the night before.
After the last bit of wrapping paper is torn from the gifts, many families begin pouring Bloody Marys in the family room while listening to Christmas music. Along with cheese straws and roasted pecans, Ken Holt serves the same Bloody Marys that he developed approximately 30 years ago while attending The Citadel full-time and working part-time as a bartender at The Carolina Yacht Club. His secret ingredient is clam juice.
The Holts’ Christmas Bloody Mary Recipe
The recipe makes a little over a gallon of mix. Place the following in a blender:
4 ounces Rose’s lime juice
4 ounces lemon juice
8 ounces clam juice
25 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
8 dashes Tabasco Sauce
2 heaping tablespoons horseradish
4 to 8 cherry tomatoes depending on size
3 heaping teaspoons celery salt
1 heaping teaspoon celery seed
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
1 heaping teaspoon coarse ground pepper
1 heaping teaspoon fine ground pepper
Blend on high speed for 30 seconds. Mix with 46 ounces of tomato juice and 64 ounces of V-8 juice. Shake or stir before each serving. Keep refrigerated.
“My wife and I give half gallon jugs of the mix to our friends during the holidays accompanied with the following note,” says Ken. “With vodka it’s a Bloody Mary, with gin it’s a Red Snapper, and with nothing it’s a Bloody Shame — Cheers!”
Now that the glitter is settling down, why not start lunch with a special appetizer of Oysters Rockefeller before sitting down for the midday meal? It can be nice to eat the first course casually milling around the Christmas room marveling over the gifts and the excitement from the morning while nibbling on this seafood delicacy.
Oysters Rockefeller is a favorite Southern appetizer that was originally created at Antoine’s, the famous New Orleans restaurant. While the authentic recipe is made with rich bread crumbs and green herb ingredients served on top of an oyster on the half-shell, this recipe offers an East Coast version by using large clam shells, and thus creating an appetizer that is easier to fix and can be enjoyed with one serving per guest. The ingredients listed are for preparing 8 appetizers in 8 large clam shells.
4 dozen oysters
1 pound butter
One bunch parsley, chopped
One bunch green onion tops, chopped
16 slices of bacon
Juice of 2 lemons
4 cups bread crumbs
2 (1- pound) frozen spinach
Chop onion tops, chop parsley and mix with thawed spinach. Sauté with butter, salt and pepper until tender. Cook bacon and crumble on a separate plate. Line each clam shell with enough oysters to cover the bottom. Squeeze a generous amount of lemon juice over the oysters. Then cover the oysters with a layer of greens, a layer of bacon crumbs and smother with bread crumbs. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Be careful not to over brown the bread crumbs.
Columbians hold many fun, different traditions for Christmas afternoon. While some families make an annual craft together, others host or attend Christmas Day parties. Some people take that time to visit close friends and neighbors, perhaps those who do not have much family. For many it is a welcomed lull in which they can sneak in a nap or curl up with a new book received that morning.
Cocktail hour on Christmas evening welcomes the start of the more formal festivities of the day. Burke Dial recalls that for as long as he can remember, Donald, his late father, always served champagne cocktails before the big family meal on Christmas. It is a tradition that he and Donny, his brother, each carry on as they alternatively host Christmas Day parties featuring this popular drink.
In preparing for the Christmas evening dinner, it’s time to spread out the linen tablecloth and bring out the silver and china. Make memories with taking a little extra effort in using those things you might otherwise not bother pulling out of the closet. Columbian families enjoy coming around the table to enjoy a glass of fine wine, delicious food and celebrating the joy of being together.
The Dial Family Champagne Cocktail
This drink works well with any sparkling wine. Champagne, of course, is the ultimate, but Italian Prosecco, any French sparkling wine, California Champagne, or German sparkling wine, along with innumerable others, all work fine. The flavors may be slightly different, but different palates will have their own preferences.
Champagne (or other sparkling wine)
1/2 ounce of Grand Marnier (Cointreau or Triple Sec will substitute with slightly different tastes that may be preferable)
2 Dashes of Angostura Bitters
1/2 level teaspoon of sugar (this is completely optional and is better if the wine is particularly dry. If Prosecco is used, the sugar may be overkill. I often omit the sugar entirely. Try it different ways.).
1 Dash of Brandy or Cognac
Orange sections and lemon peel for garnish
Start with a large glass of at least 14 to 16 ounces; add Grand Marnier, Angostura Bitters, Brandy or Cognac and sugar. Fill the glass with several large ice cubes and 4 to 8 ounces of Champagne (or other sparkling wine) and stir to mix the ingredients. Garnish with orange sections and lemon peel.
Christmas Day movies have been a growing tradition for many Columbia families. It is a fun way to get out, run into other friends and enjoy one last event before the day closes. This year, the two most anticipated movies releasing on Christmas Day are Unbroken, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling biography of Louis Zamperini, and Into the Woods, a favorite Broadway musical featuring Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and Emily Blunt among other top-name actors.