Christmas Classics

The year the dog tried to eat one of my mom’s glass German ornaments was the year they were both almost put away for good. I remember how delicately and almost ceremoniously my mom would place those old, faded ornaments on the tree – right next to the red and green paper chains my brother and I made in school, or the Shrinky Dinks we made at home one year. After she was done placing the ornaments, mom would sit down in her rocking chair and gaze lovingly at the tree for what seemed to be hours on end. After she was finished, she’d pop into the kitchen and bake fresh, homemade cookies while my brother and I paced the floor excitedly waiting for the first taste.

At the time, I wasn’t capable of understanding what my mother saw in those old, ragged ornaments. I used to think they were the ugliest damn things I had ever laid eyes on and I always thought they were in desperate need of replacing by something, anything – so long as it was newer, or at least brighter. At a couple points I was tempted to knock a few off the tree and blame the dog – just to be rid of them. It wasn’t until years later that I learned they had been passed down from my great grandmother, Helen. Then I suddenly realized how much those faded, old, delicate ornaments meant to my mom and I completely understood the pride with which she displayed them.

The way I celebrate Christmas now is quite different from when I was growing up. My tastes have changed and now that I’m all grown up, I can pretty much afford to do what I’d like. I’ve opted for a rustic American feel for my Christmas décor – which is worlds apart from the seemingly schlocky, traditional German-Irish style I had growing up.

Glühwein - German Christmas Wine CocktailAlthough I no longer put them on the tree, I have managed to carry-on the tradition of the German glass ornaments. I always make a special place in my home for those old, faded remnants of Christmases past and when I see them, I think of my mom and realize that some traditions are very much worth keeping.

I’ve also picked up a couple other Old World traditions that I’d like to share with you. These come courtesy of the US Military and my time in Germany. The first is a recipe for Glühwein, a buzz-inducing potion sure to put anyone in the Christmas frame of mind (similar to the Nordic Glogg spiced wine). The second, is a recipe for Hazelnut Cookies which simply have to be experienced in order to be appreciated.


750ml bottle of dry red (or white!) wine
1 lemon
2 sticks of cinnamon
3 cloves
3 tbsp sugar
cardamom (or ginger) to taste

Heat the wine in a pot (don’t boil). Cut the lemon into slices and add to the wine. Then add the cinnamon, cloves, sugar and a little cardamom (to taste). Heat everything for about 5 minutes – do not boil – and let stand for about an hour. Before serving, reheat and strain. Serve in pre-warmed glasses or mugs. Serves 2-3 persons.

Hazelnut Cookies

1 ¾ cups flour
7/8 cup sugar
1 cup plus 2 tbsp butter
1 cup finely ground hazelnuts
2 egg whites
2 tbsp powdered sugar

Cream the butter and sugar until frothy. Add the nuts and the flour and knead together. Roll out the dough thinly on a floured surface. Cut out the cookies with cookie cutters and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Beat the egg whites with the powdered sugar till almost stiff. Spread the egg white mixture on the unbaked cookies. Bake now about 15 minutes at 350 °F. They should not get too brown!


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