“This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas everybody invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather,” writes Jane Austen in Emma. “I was snowed up at a friend’s house once for a week. Nothing could be pleasanter.” Readers share their own fond remembrances of holiday gatherings, travels, and traditions.
Each year during Yuletide, my whole family visits a quaint town in Delaware that is reminiscent of Colonial Williamsburg. On the first Saturday of December, the Women’s Club of Odessa hosts Christmas in Odessa, a day of open houses in historic churches, private homes, and other sites. The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings are all decorated for the holidays. Also, from mid-November to the end of the year, the Historic Odessa Foundation features one of their venerable houses, arrayed to reflect a classic work of literature. Visitors feel as if they are walking into the story, with each room set up as a different scene from the book. Last year’s theme was A Christmas Carol, and 2019’s will be The Secret Garden. Through your pages, Victoria’s readers know how charming antiques and old properties can be, and I am sure they would love to spend a day exploring this lovely community.
ALISON K. MATSEN
Among my girlfriends, my home is usually the first to be ready for Christmas, so I have been offering them the same gift since 1996. On the first Thursday of December, I host an annual Christmas party for as many as forty attendees, treating them to a relaxing time brimming with holiday spirit. I bring out my finest tableware and serve a different meal each year, complete with several desserts. We have fun playing a gift-exchange game, never knowing which package anyone will end up with!
By the end of the evening, my hope is that I have given these women a respite of calm before all the hustle and bustle of the season is cast upon them. As a parting favor, I send each one off with a handmade token from my friendship tree—the boughs laden with special treasures crafted during the months leading up to the soirée. Guests tell me that they look forward to conversing with acquaintances they may not have seen all year and that the first Thursday of December gives them inspiration to continue the celebration with their own friends and families.
Every December, three of my local friends and I enjoy a progressive Christmas tea. With this event, we get to see each other’s Christmas trees, decorations, and table settings arrayed with holiday china, linens, and centerpiece.
We change the order of the gathering every year so that hostesses provide a different course each time. At the first house, the hostess serves scones, a variety of preserves, clotted cream, and one or two choices of tea. The hostess at the second location serves soup or salad, and sometimes both, with one or two favorite tea blends. At the third destination, we are served delicate finger sandwiches, along with an appropriate selection of teas. At the final stop, a decadent dessert is served along with the hostess’s choice of holiday tea.
We all live within a radius of approximately 7 miles in the countryside of West Michigan, so we often have to contend with hazardous winter roads as we travel from one home to the next on this special day. The first course of the progression begins around 10 o’clock in the morning, and we ordinarily spend about an hour at each house as we admire the Christmas decorations, take a group photo by each Christmas tree, enjoy a special Christmas prayer, poem, or reading offered by the hostess, and then indulge in delicious Christmas fare, all accompanied by Christmas music playing softly in the background.
Our progressive tea party always offers surprises because we four friends have a mutual fondness for thrift shops, estate sales, and vintage teaware. We feel so blessed to celebrate the birth of our Savior in the meaningful season of Advent.
Our Christmas Eve tradition on Beaverhead Drive in Helena, Montana, is always a thrill. The neighborhood invites passersby to drive without headlights along their brown paper bag luminary–lit streets. One house always has a huge Santa clinging to the roof. The garage windows of another home reveal smiling elves with green or red hats. Our children are teenagers but still delight in their father’s attitude toward the Christmas drive. In my memory, the children are in the backseat, bundled in blankets, as they dream of Christmas delights.
COLLEEN CLANCY HANSEN
At our home, the start of the Christmas season always begins with the excitement of planning our Feast of the Seven Fishes, a celebratory dinner that we share on Christmas Eve. This firmly rooted Italian tradition provides a vigil until the feast of Christmas Day itself.
Growing up in an Italian family, I always looked forward with great anticipation to this hours-long grand meal! Now, my two daughters and I carry on the custom. We enjoy preparing our holiday repast of different varieties of seafood, along with delectable pastries served as the finale to a superb dinner. I know that in the years to come, my daughters will also carry on this family tradition.
To read about more opportunities for connection during this treasured season, see “Times of Togetherness” on page 13 of the November/December 2019 issue, available on newsstands and at Victoriamag.com.