My Adirondack Christmas
I was born and raised in upstate New York, one of five children living with our hard-working, loving parents in a large clapboard house, painted white. Come December each year, our large yard, where we enjoyed Sunday summer picnics with our extended family, would be blanketed in snow. And there’d be a special magic in the air…
Most every house in my childhood Adirondack village decorated for the season, Christmas trees glowing bright through front windows and strands of lights outlining houses—from the farm homes on the country back roads to the houses huddled together in the center of our quaint little town.
An evergreen wreath with a velvet red bow on our front door welcomed friends and family into our home. Our freshly cut tree would be draped with strings of popcorn and cranberries, mounds of silvery tinsel, and treasured ornaments unpacked from brown boxes stored in the attic.
On Christmas morning, my younger brother and I always woke first and would tiptoe downstairs to find our tree overflowing with presents. We’d read the tags and giggle with excitement whenever we found one of our names, but we dared not touch. Against Dad’s rules. We also knew the true meaning of Christmas wasn’t in the gifts inside those wrapped boxes, but all around us in the love we shared and in God’s love for us through his Son sent to save us.
So we quietly emptied our Christmas stockings—those we were allowed to open!—made by our mother. I can still remember mine, knitted in red and white with a green tree shape below my name. Onto the couch spilled oranges, apples, and hard candies. If we’d been extra good that year, a Lifesaver “book” would slide onto each of our piles of goodies as well.
Soon the clan would all gather at the kitchen table, talking and laughing about shared family memories and the anticipation of the day as we dug into our home fries and scrambled eggs and bacon. All seven of us would help clean the dishes before changing into our Sunday best and bundling up to brave the chilly northern air.
Our family’s church was filled to the rafters on Holy Days and especially so on Christmas. Contentment enveloped me as I sat snuggled between my brother and Mom in our family’s cozy pew. We’d smile and nod at aunts, uncles and cousins along with friends and neighbors we’d known our whole lives. When the service began, I’d gaze at the candlelit alter covered in festive red and purple linens and inhaling the spicy incense as I listened to the priest read familiar stories of Christ’s birth. When it came time for the Christmas carols, I’d belt them out loud and clear, my favorites Away in a Manger and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
The rest of our Christmas Day would be a flurry of activity. We’d open presents at our house then travel to my father’s parents’ house a few minutes down the country road, eat an early ham dinner then open more presents. Our older siblings would drift upstairs to chill with the older cousins and my father would go play pinochle with his brothers and dad at the large table in the den while my mother, aunts, and grandmother chatted close by. My little brother and I would hang out with our cousins all close in age in the living room next to the Christmas tree. Oh, how fascinated I was by the bubble ornaments as a child! We’d laugh and play and sneak into the kitchen time and again for treats until well after dark.
Thinking back to all the delicious desserts spread on my grandmother’s kitchen table brings back wonderful memories of my mother. She was an incredible baker. She made fried doughnuts from scratch, all sorts of pies (my favorite was her strawberry rhubarb pie), homemade fudge, oodles of cookies, bon bons, and more. At Christmas, her peanut brittle was my favorite.
Donna’s Peanut Brittle
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon butter
Dash of salt*
1 cup peanuts
Throw butter and sugar in a cast iron skillet and heat until it turns liquid then cook about four minutes, stirring constantly. Add peanuts to the mixture while stirring and cook a few more minutes. Add baking soda, stirring gently until the mixture is light and foamy. Remove from heat and immediately pour mixture onto a buttered cookie sheet. Spread mixture thinly and allow to cool. Break into small pieces and serve.
*dash= 1/8 teaspoon
As you might imagine, Adirondack Christmas memories such as those I shared above did much to inspire my fictional town of Starling in Christmas Light. I wanted to share my take on the spirit of a small town community, the bonds of love and acceptance that allow family members to forge through their differences—wherever they might live—and the beauty of the Adirondack region. And too, that imperfect as we may be, each of us can find the perfect mate for us…if only we’re brave enough to take that leap of faith, ask forgiveness, and believe in the miracle of unconditional love.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
In the spirit of the season and the celebration of reading, I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to a random commenter. All you have to do is share one of your Christmas favorites, whether it be a song, a tradition, an ornament, or whatever! I look forward to reading them. oxo Jolyse
Jolyse Barnett may not be able to cook to save her life, but she can whip up a delicious romantic tale. She discovered the joy of playing with words at a young age, filling notebooks with poetry and stacks of pink diaries with her teenage angst and dreams. After she graduated from high school, she developed a more practical side. She earned her degree in Writing (Of course!), fell in love with her best friend (Yes!), and now lives her own happily-ever-after (Yay!). She enjoys a fulfilling day job and explores the world one vacation at a time with her two children and real-life hero. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.